Blair, Tony

Blair, Tony
orig. Anthony Charles Lynton

born May 6, 1953, Edinburgh, Scot.

British politician who in 1997 became the country's youngest prime minister since 1812.

Blair was a lawyer before winning election to the House of Commons in 1983. Entering the shadow cabinet of the Labour Party in 1988 at age 35, Blair urged the party to move to the political centre and deemphasize its traditional advocacy of state control and public ownership of certain sectors of the economy. He assumed leadership of Labour in 1994 and revamped its platform. He led the party to landslide victories in the 1997 and 2001 elections. His government brokered a peace agreement between unionists and republicans in Northern Ireland, introduced devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland, and carried out reforms of Parliament. After the September 11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001, Blair allied the United Kingdom with the U.S. and its president, George W. Bush, in a global war against terrorism. In late 2002 Blair and Bush accused the Iraqi government of Saddām Hussein of continuing to possess and develop biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons in violation of UN mandates. They subsequently tried without success to persuade France, Russia, and other UN Security Council members that such weapons would not be uncovered by UN weapons inspections, which were then under way. Despite deep divisions within his own party and strong public opposition to a war with Iraq, Blair, with Bush, led an attack on Iraq that toppled Ḥussein's regime in March–April 2003.

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▪ 2006

      On May 5, 2005, Prime Minister Tony Blair led Britain's Labour Party to its third consecutive election victory—an achievement unparalleled in Labour's 100-year history. The election was also Blair's last. Seven months earlier he had announced that he would step down shortly before the next election, due in 2009 or 2010.

      Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was born in Edinburgh on May 6, 1953. In July 1994, after 11 years as a member of Parliament, he was elected Labour leader on a platform of modernizing the party and abandoning its historical commitment to state socialism. On May 1, 1997, he led Labour to its biggest election victory over the Conservatives. Four years later Labour achieved a second landslide victory, which was attributed to the government's success in maintaining steady economic growth and to the continuing unpopularity of the opposition Conservative Party.

      Blair's second term was overshadowed by his decision to support U.S. Pres. George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003. A substantial minority of Labour MPs voted against the war. Iraq cost Blair yet more support when it transpired that he had been wrong to claim that Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. On the domestic front, some of Blair's reforms also proved divisive within his party—especially his proposal to charge university students up to £3,000 (about $5,000) a year in tuition fees. His personal ratings were sharply lower by the time of the May 2005 general election, but the continuing strength of the economy and the public mistrust of the Conservatives enabled Labour to retain power, albeit with a much-reduced majority.

      Blair's third victory thrust him to the centre of the world stage, as the U.K. simultaneously held the presidencies of the European Union and Group of Eight (G-8) during the second half of 2005. At the G-8 summit at Gleneagles, Scot., in July, he sought to gain commitments from the world's wealthiest countries to reduce poverty in Africa and to do more to combat the effects of climate change. A $50 billion aid package for Africa was agreed on, but progress on climate change was more limited, as Blair's close relationship with Bush was not enough to overcome U.S. objections to specific measures to reduce carbon emissions. Separately, Blair made little progress on his goals of propelling the EU toward free-market measures and away from subsidies, especially for agriculture. Blair's plans were blocked, above all, by French Pres. Jacques Chirac. The two men had had a frosty relationship since the start of the Iraq war, which France opposed.

      As Blair entered his third term, he was widely regarded as a lame-duck leader because of his decision to announce in advance that he would not contest another general election. His sure-footed response to the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, when he won praise from politicians of all parties for his calmness and determination, revived his authority, however, and quelled—for the time being—talk that the prime minister might be forced out of office earlier than he intended.

Peter Kellner

▪ 2003

      During 2002 British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to occupy a pivotal role in relations between Europe and the United States. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, he underscored the U.K.'s position as the U.S.'s closest European ally, notably by publicly backing U.S. Pres. George W. Bush's “war on terrorism” and by sending British troops to join American forces in Afghanistan. As pressure mounted to strip Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, Blair fought to prevent a potentially disastrous division between the U.S. and Europe over the conditions under which military action against Iraq could take place. Blair's critics, however, claimed that the prime minister had tied the U.K. too closely to U.S. foreign policy.

      Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was born in Edinburgh on May 6, 1953. He was elected to Parliament for the safe Labour Party constituency of Sedgefield in the general election of 1983, when Labour sustained its heaviest defeat since 1935. He was selected for the shadow cabinet in 1988, and when John Smith, then leader of the Labour Party, died suddenly in 1994, Blair easily won the contest to succeed him. In 1997 Blair led Labour to its greatest victory, ending 18 years in opposition, with a 179-seat majority in the 659-seat House of Commons. As prime minister he reestablished good relations between the U.K. and the rest of the European Union (EU) following years of tension under the previous Conservative Party administrations. In 1998 he led the negotiations that produced the Good Friday Agreement, which brought a cease-fire to Northern Ireland. He faced criticism in 2000 when blockades of oil refineries by truckers briefly interrupted the supply of gasoline, and his administration was accused of mishandling the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic. Nevertheless, the continuing strength of the economy and the feeble state of the Conservative opposition enabled Blair to lead Labour to its second successive landslide victory in June 2001.

      In 2002 Blair promised to accelerate the pace of domestic reform. On the one hand, he pleased the left by explicitly embracing an economic policy of redistribution to the less well-off. On the other hand, he insisted on big changes to the organization of public services, including the greater use of private companies. For the time being, his commanding majority in the House of Commons and his continuing strength in the opinion polls enabled him to quell internal party criticism. On the international front, Blair's role was less certain, especially after a public dispute in October with French Pres. Jacques Chirac over EU farm subsidies.

Peter Kellner

▪ 1998

      On May 1, 1997, Tony Blair led Britain's Labour Party to its biggest-ever election victory. The following day he became the U.K.'s youngest prime minister since William Pitt the Younger at the end of the 18th century. Blair was just 43.

      Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was born in Edinburgh on May 6, 1953. After graduating from the University of Oxford in 1975, he became a barrister. He was elected to the House of Commons for the safe Labour constituency of Sedgefield, in the county of Durham, in the general election of 1983, when Labour sustained its heaviest defeat since 1935. Blair belonged to a generation of young, open-minded Labour MPs who wanted the party to abandon its traditional devotion to state socialism. Pro-European unity and pro-NATO, he was one of the keenest supporters of Neil Kinnock, who, as party leader from 1983 to 1992, sought to modernize Labour. Blair was elected to the shadow cabinet by his fellow Labour MPs in 1988, when he was just 35. In 1992, after Labour's fourth successive election defeat, Kinnock resigned and John Smith became party leader. As shadow home secretary, Blair sought to jettison Labour's image of being "soft" on criminals. He employed the phrase "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" to summarize Labour's policies and attacked the Conservatives for their failure to tackle the underlying social causes of rising crime. While bolstering his public image, Blair sought to speed up the process of party modernization and was frustrated at what he felt was Smith's unwillingness to bring the party's constitution and economic and industrial policies up-to-date.

      In May 1994 Smith died suddenly of a heart attack. There was little doubt who would win the contest to succeed him, and on July 21 Blair became party leader. About two months later he told Labour's annual conference that he wished to rewrite the party's constitution and abandon its commitment to "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange." At a special conference in April 1995, he secured agreement to a new set of party objectives that explicitly acknowledged the virtues of market competition. Blair also sought to woo the middle classes by promising not to increase the standard rate or higher rates of the income tax. Within the Labour Party he acted to make it a more effective election-fighting force. He borrowed a number of techniques developed in U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton's 1992 and 1996 election campaigns; for example, he established a "rapid rebuttal" unit, employing the most up-to-date information technology, to respond swiftly to statements made by Labour's rivals. Blair summed up his reforms by describing his party not as Labour but as New Labour.

      On the morning of May 2, following his landslide election victory, Blair said, "We were elected as New Labour; we will govern as New Labour." Fears that the party might break its pre-election promises, especially on taxation, were quickly quelled. Labour, and Blair personally, entered an extended honeymoon period with an electorate mostly delighted to see the end of the Conservative regime. Blair's opinion-poll ratings during the second half of 1997 were the highest for any prime minister since Winston Churchill, though late in the year his support was somewhat eroded by cuts in welfare benefits and reports of a tax haven for wealthy government ministers.


▪ 1994

      Tony Blair established himself during 1993 as the most effective of the younger generation of MPs in the U.K. Labour Party and as favourite to succeed John Smith—in due course—as party leader. Handsome, charismatic, and possessing a determination to modernize progressive politics, Blair was the Labour politician who most worried the U.K.'s Conservatives.

      Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was born in Edinburgh on May 6, 1953, and educated in the city and at the University of Oxford. A barrister by profession, he entered the House of Commons in 1983 for the constituency of Sedgefield in the county of Durham. Labour MPs elected him to their shadow cabinet in 1988 at the unusually young age of 35. In November 1990 Neil Kinnock, then party leader, gave him the sensitive task of modernizing Labour's policies on industrial relations. Blair gained widespread credit for persuading both the party and the trade unions to give up the closed shop—the long-established arrangement whereby union membership was compulsory for certain jobs.

      After Labour's defeat in the April 1992 general election, Blair became the most outspoken of a loose group known as "the modernizers." Given Labour's devotion to tradition and its fear of innovation, the label had a degree of ambiguity; some left-wingers employed "modernizer" as a term of abuse. Blair, however, insisted in a series of controversial speeches and newspaper articles that Labour needed to redefine its basic purpose by talking less about state control and public ownership and more about opportunity, enterprise, and community.

      In July 1992 Smith was elected Labour leader and appointed Blair as shadow home secretary. Blair became responsible for the party's policies on crime—an issue on which opinion polls consistently found that voters favoured the Conservatives. Once again Blair's task was to jettison Labour's reputation for being "soft" on criminals. Once again he succeeded. He argued that the right approach was to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime." He accused the Conservative government of doing too little to tackle the underlying social causes of rising crime or to provide sufficient funds for crime-prevention measures. By late 1993 Labour had overtaken the Conservatives in many people's minds as the party most widely trusted to preserve law and order.


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▪ prime minister of United Kingdom
in full  Anthony Charles Lynton Blair  
born May 6, 1953, Edinburgh, Scot.
 British Labour Party leader who served as prime minister of the United Kingdom (1997–2007). He was the youngest prime minister since 1812 and the longest-serving Labour prime minister, and his 10-year tenure as prime minister was the second longest continuous period (after Margaret Thatcher (Thatcher, Margaret)'s) in more than 150 years.

Early life and start in politics
      The son of a barrister, Blair attended Fettes College in Edinburgh (a school often viewed as ‘‘Scotland's Eton (Eton College) ") and St. John's College of the University of Oxford, where he combined the study of law with interest in religious ideas and popular music. But he displayed little enthusiasm for politics until he met his future wife, Cherie Booth. He graduated from Oxford in 1975 and was called to the bar the following year. While specializing in employment and commercial law, he became increasingly involved in Labour Party politics and in 1983 was elected to the House of Commons (Commons, House of) to the safe Labour parliamentary seat of Sedgefield, a tight-knit former mining district in northeastern England. His entry into politics coincided with a long political ascendancy of the Conservative Party (from 1979) and Labour's loss of four consecutive general elections (from 1979 through 1992).

 Entering Labour's shadow cabinet in 1988, Blair became the most outspoken of those party leaders calling for Labour to move to the political centre and deemphasize its traditional advocacy of state control and public ownership of certain sectors of the economy. In 1992 John Smith was elected Labour leader, and he appointed Blair shadow home secretary. When Smith died suddenly in May 1994, Blair seized the opportunity, and in July he was elected party leader with 57 percent support. His election came as something of a surprise because many believed the post would go to Gordon Brown, the shadow chancellor of the Exchequer, who had partnered with Blair in an attempt to move Labour to the political centre; however, Blair's stock within the party had risen, and Brown had reluctantly agreed to step aside. By mid-1995 Blair had revamped the Labour Party's platform. He abandoned the party's stated commitment to the nationalization of the economy (by waging a successful battle to have the party modify its constitution's Clause IV, which committed the party to “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange”), reduced links with trade unions, and obtained unprecedented commitments to free enterprise, anti-inflationary policies, aggressive crime prevention, and support for Britain's integration into the European Union. Blair summed up his reforms—often opposed by members of his own party—by describing the party as New Labour. Under his leadership, the Labour Party heavily defeated the Conservatives in nationwide municipal elections held in May 1995 and won a landslide victory over the Conservatives in the general election of May 1997, having waged a campaign that centred on the promise that “things can only get better.”

Prime ministership

First term
      Blair enjoyed a 179-seat majority in the House of Commons—the biggest parliamentary majority in the history of the Labour Party and the largest majority of any party since 1935. Inspired by sociologist Anthony Giddens, he described his philosophy of government as the “Third Way.” Blair claimed that his policies were designed to enable social democracy to respond to the challenges of the worldwide market economy and to equip citizens to cope with what Giddens called “the major revolutions of our time,” including globalization. Perhaps the most coherent view about Blair's search for the Third Way was that it was an endeavour to discover a form of progressive politics distinguishing itself from the conservatism of both left and right. Blair frequently looked for advice from businessmen who had come to prominence earlier, under the Conservative prime minister Thatcher. Private firms were given an important role in financing state infrastructure projects, despite widespread criticism that this financing was on terms often disadvantageous to the taxpayer.

 Blair gave control of the economic agenda to Gordon Brown (Brown, Gordon), his chancellor of the Exchequer and eventual successor. The Blair government's first major initiative—and perhaps its boldest—granted the Bank of England (England, Bank of) the power to determine interest rates without government consultation, a policy that had not appeared in the party's platform. The government also immediately signed the Maastricht Treaty's Social Chapter and turned its attention to brokering a peace agreement between republicans and unionists in Northern Ireland. Blair initiated reforms in the House of Commons, modernizing the format of “Prime Minister's Question Time,” during which the prime minister answers questions from members of Parliament. During his first year in office, he organized referenda that created devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales and developed a joint committee to coordinate constitutional and other policies with the opposition Liberal Democrats.

      Blair also gave important powers to unelected advisers, notably media consultant Alistair Campbell. The marketing image they adopted, known as “Cool Britannia,” suggested that Britain was a dynamic and successful country that had reinvented itself after years of decline and internal division. New Labour eagerly sought the approval of the mass-circulation press, particularly conservative tabloids such as The Sun, by embracing celebrity culture as well as respect for traditions, including the monarchy.

      In May 1998 Blair led a successful referendum campaign to create a new assembly for London and to establish the city's first directly elected mayor. That year Blair also helped to negotiate the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement), which was ratified overwhelmingly in both Ireland and Northern Ireland and which created an elected devolved power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1972. Blair also eliminated all but 92 of the hereditary members of the House of Lords as the prelude to more-extensive reforms of that chamber.

      The population began to grow skeptical of Blair as a new election approached, as it became clear that his government remained highly centralized and that he had no plans for overdue reforms in the public services. Opinion polls found that there was public concern regarding financial misbehaviour in government, manipulation of the media, the granting of honours to individuals who contributed to Labour Party funds, nepotism, and other actions that put the interests of business before ordinary citizens.

Second term
 Facing a deeply unpopular opposition, however, Blair was easily reelected in May 2001 to a 167-seat majority in the House of Commons—the largest-ever second-term majority in British electoral history, though voter turnout was the lowest since 1918. His second term was dominated by international affairs. In the late 1990s he had won praise by mounting peacekeeping operations in the Serbian province of Kosovo and in Sierra Leone. After the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Britain played a key role in forming an international coalition that succeeded in driving the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, which had been allowed to become a safe haven for Islamic militants such as Osama bin Laden (bin Laden, Osama), the mastermind of the attacks. Blair enjoyed a good relationship with U.S. Pres. George W. Bush (Bush, George W.) and allied the United Kingdom with the United States in a global “war against terrorism.” In early 2003, following passage by the United Nations Security Council (Security Council, United Nations) of a resolution mandating the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, Blair and Bush tried without success to persuade other Security Council members that continued weapons inspections would not succeed in uncovering any weapons of mass destruction held by the Iraqi government of Ṣaddām Ḥussein.

 Despite deep divisions within the Labour Party—several ministers resigned and 139 Labour members of Parliament voted in favour of a motion opposing the government's policy—and strong public opposition to a war with Iraq, Blair, with Bush, led a coalition of military forces in an attack on Iraq (Iraq War) in March 2003. Blair's enthusiastic support for the action damaged his reputation as a global statesman, and he fell out with key European allies. When military inspectors failed to uncover weapons of mass destruction (weapon of mass destruction), the Blair government was accused of distorting (“sexing up”) intelligence on which it had based its claim that Iraq was an imminent threat. In October 2004 Blair announced that he would seek a third term as prime minister but would not stand for a fourth term.

Third term
 Despite lingering public dissatisfaction with Blair's policy in Iraq, Blair led the Labour Party to its third successive general election victory in May 2005, albeit with a sharply reduced majority. Simmering revolt in the Labour Party over both Iraq and Blair's rejection of core Labour policies led him to promise that he would resign before the next election. Blair's popularity, with both the general public and the Labour members of Parliament, generally declined after the election. Many people in Britain felt that the country was in the grip of a serious malaise. Social cohesion seemed to be collapsing in much of urban Britain, as shown by a steep rise in violent crime and open drug dealing. Public officials in the police, civil service, and education sectors seemed to be unable to grapple effectively with the social crisis as they struggled to meet bureaucratic targets. After Islamic extremists exploded bombs in London on July 7, 2005, killing 54 people, Blair began to emphasize the need for a common public culture, and former multicultural policies that encouraged ethnic groups to separate into different communities were repudiated.

 Blair's government suffered its first defeat in the House of Commons in November 2005, when 49 Labour members of Parliament joined the opposition in voting against antiterrorist laws that would have extended the length of time suspects could be held without charge. Subsequently, many Labour members of Parliament called for Blair to announce a date for his departure as prime minister well before the next general election; following a series of resignations by junior ministers, Blair declared in September 2006 that he would stand down as prime minister within a year. On May 10, 2007—one week after Labour was defeated by the Scottish National Party in elections to the Scottish Parliament and suffered major defeats in English local elections as well and two days after devolved power was returned from London to a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland—Blair announced that he would officially tender his resignation as prime minister on June 27, 2007. Blair subsequently was succeeded as leader of the Labour Party and as prime minister by his long-serving chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.

      Blair's decade in office was marked by uninterrupted economic growth and a more independent Bank of England. Blair also preserved much of Thatcher's market radicalism while managing to place greater emphasis on social justice. Numerous minority groups found his government more sympathetic to their concerns—notably gays, who by 2004 were allowed to enter into civil partnerships recognized by the law. Many believed, however, that Blair's role in restoring peace to Northern Ireland would come to be seen as his most enduring political legacy. Blair showed a remarkable ability to convey optimism and energy in the face of adversity caused not least by the failure in Iraq.

 Critics of his record argued that, instead of using his parliamentary majority to reform the institutions of state, he pursued incoherent short-term policies that left Britain ill-governed in important areas. The state became more intrusive and even more authoritarian without managing to overcome a range of social ills, particularly rising crime and drug use. The economy grew steadily, but it was burdened by low productivity and growing volumes of personal and state debt. Citizens were heavily taxed, and Britain lost much of its remaining manufacturing base, becoming more dependent on financial services and low-skilled sectors for progress. Blair allowed millions of mainly low-skilled migrant workers to settle in the country, and he was criticized for leaving the economy more exposed to the forces of globalization than that of any other large Western country. The biggest cloud hanging over his reputation was the failure to ensure that British involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq resulted in policies capable of preventing that country from becoming a source of instability in the Middle East. History could judge his premiership more kindly in the future. However, at the time that he stepped down, Blair was widely viewed as a lucky politician with exceptional talents that enabled him to be a successful vote winner but ultimately lacking the ability to be a noteworthy reformer at home or a stabilizing force in a world facing the resurgence of dangerous divisions.

Life after the premiership
 Nonetheless, after 10 years in office but still only in his early 50s, Blair was not ready to retire from the world scene. On the day of his resignation, he was selected by the “Quartet”—the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—to serve as special envoy to the Middle East, and he announced he would resign his seat in the House of Commons.

      Blair made headlines in December 2007 when he converted to Roman Catholicism (Britain has never had a Roman Catholic prime minister). Before his conversion, he had publicly maintained silence on matters of personal faith, but by 2008 he had demonstrated a deep commitment to initiatives aimed at fostering interfaith cooperation globally.

Tom Gallagher Ed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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