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Tony Blair

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The Right Hon. Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Appointed PM: 2 May 1997
PM Predecessor: John Major
Date of Birth: 6 May 1953
Place of Birth: Edinburgh, Scotland
Political Party: Labour
The Right Honourable Anthony Charles Lynton "Tony" Blair (born 6 May 1953) became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1997, bringing the Labour party into government after 18 consecutive years of Conservative rule.

Blair's stated priorities on coming to office were "education, education, education". In his second term, he extended this list to include other public services, notably the National Health Service. However, like many Western leaders, since 11 September 2001 his agenda has been dominated by foreign affairs - chiefly the "War on Terror" and Britain's involvement in the 2003 Iraq War and its aftermath.

Labour's electoral successes have been attributed to Blair's efforts to move the party towards the centre of British politics, a process which began under the leadership of Neil Kinnock and was continued by Blair's immediate predecessor John Smith. Blair christened his modern European-styled democratic socialist party "New Labour". However, critics to the left of the party feel that in the process he has compromised its founders' socialist principles, and that the government places insufficient emphasis on the redistribution of wealth.

Table of contents
1 Early life
2 Political career
3 Private life
5 Satirical caricature
6 Cabinet
7 See also
8 External links

Early life

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Mr Blair is the son of a barrister and a lecturer who stood for Parliament himself as a Conservative Party candidate in Durham but was never elected. He spent most of his childhood years in Durham. Blair was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh, known as the "Eton of Scotland", where he met Charlie Falconer whom he would later make Lord Chancellor. He read law at St. John's College, Oxford. During his college years he also played guitar and sang for a rock band called Ugly Rumours. He obtained a degree and went on to enroll as a trainee barrister in the Chambers of Derry Irvine.

Political career

Shortly after graduation in 1975 he joined the Labour Party. During the early 1980s he was involved in the Hackney South Labour Party, where he aligned himself with the "soft left" who appeared to be taking control of the party. However, his attempt to secure selection as a candidate for Hackney Borough Council was unsuccessful. In 1982 he was selected to stand for Parliament in a by-election held in the safe Tory seat of Beaconsfield. He won only 10% of the vote and lost his deposit, but impressed Labour Party leader Michael Foot.

In 1983 Blair found that the newly-created seat of Sedgefield, near where he had grown up in Durham, had no Labour candidate. Several sitting MPs displaced by boundary changes were interested, but Blair managed to win the nomination. The seat was safely Labour despite the party's collapse in the 1983 UK general election.

In opposition

Once in Parliament, Blair's ascent was rapid. He was given his first shadow job in 1984, aligning himself firmly with the reforming tendencies in the party, headed by leader Neil Kinnock. He entered the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy in 1989, and worked to produce a more moderate and electable party. When Kinnock resigned after defeat by John Major in the 1992 UK general election, Blair became Shadow Home Secretary under John Smith.

In 1994 Smith died suddenly of a heart attack. Blair and fellow Shadow Cabinet member Gordon Brown allegedly struck a deal at the Granita restaurant in Islington that would see Blair stand for the leadership, with Brown becoming Chancellor in the event of victory.

Shortly after his election as Leader, Blair announced at the conclusion of his 1994 conference speech that he intended to propose a new statement of aims and values for the Labour Party to replace the charter originally drawn up in 1918. This involved the deletion of Clause IV which had committed the party to 'the common ownership of the means of production' (widely interpreted as wholescale nationalisation). A special conference of the party approved the change in March 1995.

While in opposition, Blair also revised party policy in a manner which enhanced the image of Labour as competent and modern. He used the term "New Labour" to distinguish his party's Christian Democrat leanings from the Socialist principles of "Old Labour". Although the transformation aroused much criticism (its alleged superficiality drawing fire both from political opponents and traditionalists within the "rank and file" of his own party), it was nevertheless successful in changing public perception.

Aided by disaffection with the Conservative government (who were dogged by allegations of corruption, and long running divisions over Europe), "New Labour" achieved a landslide victory over John Major in the 1997 UK general election.


United States PresidentEnlarge

United States President

Bill Clinton embraces Blair.]]

One of the major innovations of Tony Blair's first term in office was Chancellor Gordon Brown's decision to confer upon the Bank of England the power to set interest rates autonomously. The traditional tendency of governments to manipulate interest rates around the time of General Elections for political gain had been deleterious to the UK economy and helped reinforce a cyclical pattern of boom and bust. Brown's decision was thus popular with the City. Previous Labour governments left the party with a (possibly undeserved) reputation for imprudence after they presided over economic debacles such as the Winter of Discontent. Brown's decision, together with the government's avowed determination to remain within projected Tory spending limits, helped to reassure sceptics of New Labour's new-found fiscal prudence. It also established Brown as a powerful and independent Chancellor - perhaps too powerful and independent for the new Prime Minister's comfort (if reports of the Granita pact are to be believed).

Another achievement of Blair's first term, was the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement, commonly called the Good Friday Agreement, in which the British and Irish Governments and most Northern Irish political parties established an "exclusively peaceful and democratic" framework for power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Negotiations for this accord had begun under the previous Prime Minister, John Major. The agreement was finally signed on 10 April 1998, and on 26 November 1998 Blair became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to address the Republic of Ireland's parliament. Though the agreement has yet to be implemented in full, the ceasefires and political structures it brought into being have increased the chances of a sustained peace.

In 1999, Blair presided over British involvement in the Kosovo War.

In the 2001 UK general election, the Labour Party preserved its majority, even in the face of a reduced turnout, and Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister to win a full second term. The leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, resigned, becoming the first Conservative Party leader since Austen Chamberlain in the 1920s not to have served as Prime Minister.


Following the 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attack on the World Trade Center, Blair was quick to align the UK with the US, engaging in a round of shuttle diplomacy to help form and maintain the allied coalition prior to their attack on Afghanistan (in which British troops participated). He maintains this role to this day, showing a willingness to visit countries on diplomatic missions that other world leaders might consider too dangerous to visit.

Blair was a strong supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush's controversial plan to invade Iraq and overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein. Blair soon became the face of international support for the war, often clashing with French President Jacques Chirac, who became the face of international opposition. Regarded by many in Europe as a more persuasive orator than Bush, Blair gave many speeches arguing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the days leading up to war.

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U.S. President

George W. Bush shakes hands with Blair moments after sovereignty was returned to Iraq on 28 June 2004.]]

Though the main case against Saddam centered around his alleged possession of illegal weapons of mass destruction, Blair also focused on the Iraqi government's brutal record of human rights abuse as justification for regime change. Subsequently, thousands of British troops were deployed to assist with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The fact that, since Saddam's overthrow, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq continues to be a source of great domestic controversy for the Prime Minister, especially among members of his own party, many of whom were opposed to the Iraq war.

Along with George W. Bush, Tony Blair was nominated in 2004 for the Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian lawmaker Jan Simonsen, although their chances of winning are widely believed to be small. Contrarily several anti-war pressure groups want to try Blair for war crimes in Iraq at the International Criminal Court (Bush could not be tried because the USA is not a signatory to the treaty) [1] [1] [1].

On 1 August 2003 he became the longest sitting Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, surpassing Harold Wilson's 1964 - 1970 term. However, because of the crisis around the death of David Kelly, there were no celebrations.

Between 27 January and 28 January 2004 Blair was expected to have to endure "twenty-four hours in hell". He was widely predicted to lose the crucial second reading vote on the Higher Education Bill due to a Labour rebellion - this would have been his first such defeat while in office. The next day the Hutton Inquiry was due to report on its investigation of the Kelly Affair. The Inquiry was widely expected to criticise Blair and his government. In the event, the tuition fees vote was won by a margin of 5 and Lord Hutton absolved Blair and his government of deliberately inserting false intelligence into a controversial dossier. Instead Hutton focused his criticism on the BBC editorial process which had allowed the "unfounded" allegation to be broadcast.

Although vindicated by the Hutton Report, the evidence presented to the Inquiry shed light on the assessment and use of intelligence in the run up to the war in Iraq. The picture that emerged was not one of unalloyed good practice. Perhaps in part to head off criticism about the narrow scope of Hutton's findings (see Hutton Inquiry#Media reaction to the report), and almost certainly influenced by a similar decision taken by the US President, Blair initiated another inquiry (the Butler Inquiry) - this time into the validity of the intelligence. Blair's critics said that this new inquiry would not look at the use of the intelligence by the government, and was thus still unsatisfactory.

In April 2004, Blair announced in the House of Commons that a referendum would be held on the ratification of the future EU Constitution. This represents a significant change in British politics (the last referendum, which took place in 1975, was on whether Britain should remain in the EU) and a dramatic U-turn for Blair. He had previously repeatedly dismissed calls for a referendum on the issue from opposition politicans, calling the constitution a "tidying-up exercise". Michael Howard eagerly seized on the "EU-turn", reminding Blair that he had insisted just the previous year that "[he] hadn't got a reverse gear" (see also British referendum on EU constitution).

On 19 May 2004, Blair was hit by two condoms filled with purple flour while answering the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. For details on the incident see Fathers 4 Justice House of Commons protest.

Private life

Tony Blair

Tony Blair is married to noted barrister and QC Cherie Booth whom he met in 1976 whilst both were pupil barristers in the same Chambers. They have three sons (Euan, Nicky and Leo) and one daughter (Kathryn). His youngest son, Leo, born 20 May 2000, holds the distinction of being the first child born to a serving Prime Minister since the 19th century. While the Blairs have been keen to shield their children from the media spotlight, this has not always been possible. Leo became a focal point for a debate over the MMR vaccine when Tony Blair refused to confirm whether his son had received the controversial treatment. Euan Blair hit the headlines after police found him "drunk and incapable" [1] in Leicester Square, London while out celebrating the end of his GCSE exams in July 2000, just days after his father had proposed on-the-spot fines for drunken and yobbish behaviour. Blair has twice lodged complaints about press stories concerning his children. However, the fact that the family have occasionally held photocalls together has led some to accuse him of exploitation.

Blair is an Anglican of the High Church or Anglo-Catholic tendency, while his wife is Roman Catholic and his children are (according to Catholic doctrine) brought up in that faith. Blair has not sought to make a political issue of his faith, though biographers agree that his political beliefs have been profoundly influenced by it. One name often mentioned as a theological influence is the Scottish Christian philosopher John Macmurray. Some have suggested Tony Blair is the most devout Prime Minister since William Gladstone.

On 19 October 2003 it emerged that Blair had received treatment for an irregular heartbeat. He felt ill the previous day and went to hospital where he was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia. He was given a small electric shock to correct the heartbeat and returned home that night. He took the following day (20 October) a little more gently than usual and returned to a full schedule on 21 October. Downing Street aides later suggested that the palpitations had been brought on by Blair drinking lots of strong coffee at an EU summit and then working out vigorously in the gym [1]. However, former Armed Forces minister Lewis Moonie, a doctor, said that the treatment was more serious than Number 10 had admitted: "Anaesthetising somebody and giving their heart electric shocks is not something you just do in the routine run of medical practice", he claimed. [1]


Satirical caricature

As is usually the fate with British Prime Ministers, he has become the central focal point of
satire in the magazine Private Eye. A regular feature is the St Albion Parish News (incumbent: Rev. A.R.P. Blair MA (Oxon)), in which recent political events and Blair's penchant for spin and his zealous enthusiasms are relentlessly pilloried. His name is commonly deliberately mis-spelled as Tony Bliar by people who don't like what he has done, what they think he has done, his policies (particularly his stance on Iraq - something opposed by many people who otherwise would support him) or who simply dislike him personally.

It is traditional to demonise leaders in the UK as establishment toffs, "wets, insane radicals (both left and right), dullards, &c. Blair has studiously avoided these traditional pigeon holes, so he has been labeled as insincere ("King of Spin", "Phoney Tony") and accused of "cronyism" due to his perceived penchant for promoting his friends (cronies) to top jobs. This label was not applied to Margaret Thatcher, though she was said to have "performing poodles" in her cabinet. One Tory advertising agency tried to call him a "chameleon" (this was shown on a British TV documentary which placed different animal heads over his face (perched on top of one of his suits), a conceit borrowed from The Sun newspaper), though this hasn't really stuck. In the last couple of years, he has been called "Bush's poodle" due to his co-operation with the Republican government in the USA - an alliance somewhat upsetting to many supporters of his party, to which that government is politically diametrically opposed.

He has also been successfully parodied in the popular comic 2000AD in the series B.L.A.I.R 1 where he acts as a sort of futuristic crime fighter controlled by an Artificial Intelligence known as "Doctor Spin".


See also

Preceded by:
John Smith
Leader of the British Labour Party
Followed by:
Current Incumbent
Preceded by:
John Major
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Followed by:
Current Incumbent

External links