Tony BlairAnthony Charles Lynton Blair (born 6 May 1953) is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service, and MP for Sedgefield. He has led the Labour Party since July 1994, following the death of John Smith in May of that year. Blair brought Labour into power with a landslide victory in the 1997 general election replacing John Major as Prime Minister and ending 18 years of Conservative government. He is the Labour Party's longest-serving Prime Minister, and the only person to have led the party to three consecutive general election victories. The youngest person to be appointed Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812, he has deployed British armed forces into four conflicts: in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Along with Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, Blair is credited with moving the Labour Party towards the centre of British politics, using the term "New Labour" to distinguish his policies of support for the market economy from the party's older policy of nationalisation. He has referred to his policy as "modern social democracy" and "the third way" - a development partly supported by the reform socialist thinktank, The Fabian Society, of which Blair is a member (like many Labour MPs). Supporters on the left feel that Blair places insufficient emphasis on traditional Labour priorities such as the redistribution of wealth and investment in public services. Although Blair has tended not to make any issue of his faith, some have commented on his religious position as high church Anglo-Catholic; in a 2006 interview he said he considered himself ultimately accountable to God for difficult decisions, particularly his decisions to commit UK troops to military action.
Since the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, Blair's political agenda has been dominated by international affairs, especially with the United States-led "War on Terror". He has controversially supported many aspects of US President George W. Bush's foreign policy, including sending British troops to participate in Afghanistan since 2001, and in Iraq since 2003; Blair's related anti-terrorism legislation has also been highly controversial.
In October 2004, Blair declared his intention to seek a third term but not a fourth. The Labour party won a third term in government at the 2005 general election for the first time in its history, although its majority in the House of Commons was reduced to 66. The fall in Labour's share of the vote renewed speculation as to how long his leadership would continue. It is widely predicted that he will be succeeded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown at some point before the next General Election, to be held by June 3, 2010.
Blair spent his early childhood in Adelaide, Australia, where his father was a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Adelaide. The Blairs lived close to the university in the inner-eastern suburb of Dulwich.
Blair spent the remainder of his childhood years in Durham, England, his father being by then a law lecturer at Durham University. After attending Durham's Chorister School, Blair was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh (sometimes called the "Eton of Scotland"), where he met Charlie Falconer, whom he later appointed as Lord Chancellor. Blair's biographer John Rentoul reported that "All the teachers I spoke to ... said he was a complete pain in the backside, and they were very glad to see the back of him." After Fettes, 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. After graduating from Oxford with a second class degree (Oxford did not divide the second class into 2:1 and 2:2 until later), Blair enrolled as a pupil barrister and met his future wife, Cherie Booth, at the Chambers of Derry Irvine, who was to be the first Lord Chancellor appointed by Blair. Biographer Rentoul also records that according to Blair's lawyer friends, the future PM voiced much less concern regarding party affiliation than to his aim of becoming PM.
Blair married Booth, a practising Roman Catholic (and future Queen's Counsel), on March 29, 1980. They have three sons (Euan, Nicky, and Leo) and one daughter (Kathryn). Leo (born 20 May 2000) was the first legitimate child born to a serving Prime Minister in over 150 years, since Francis Russell was born to Lord John Russell on July 11, 1849. Leo was the centre of a debate over the MMR vaccine when Blair, citing his family's right to privacy, refused to say whether or not his son had received the triple MMR vaccine or single inoculations. As is usual in what Roman Catholics would term a 'mixed marriage', their children are being brought up as Catholics. Blair has attended Mass with his family every Sunday, and has been seen attending Mass at Westminster Cathedral alone. In April 2006, it was revealed that Father Michael Seed conducts a private mass in 10 Downing Street for the whole family. Blair once expressed a desire to take Roman Catholic communion, but was advised by Basil Cardinal Hume that the Eucharist is reserved for baptised Catholics. Blair has the closest ties of a British Prime Minister to the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation.
Euan and Nicky attended the London Oratory School in Fulham where they could be educated in accordance with the Catholic faith of their mother. When this decision was announced, Blair was criticised for rejecting schools in Islington, where he then lived. These schools included a Catholic boys' school. Euan Blair received widespread publicity after police found him "drunk and incapable" in Leicester Square, London, while out celebrating the end of his GCSE exams in July 2000, shortly after his father had proposed on-the-spot fines for drunken and yobbish behaviour. While the Blairs have stated that they wish to shield their children from the media, they have not always been able, or willing, to do so. Blair has twice lodged complaints about press stories concerning his children. However, the fact that the family have occasionally held photo calls together has led some (including former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith) to accuse him of exploitation, and such photographs have been used on Private Eye covers. After leaving the University of Bristol, Euan obtained a position as an intern for the U.S. House Committee on Rules under David Dreier, a Republican congressman.
Front of Tony Blair's election address for Sedgefield in the 1983 general election
Shortly after graduation in 1975, Blair joined the Labour Party. During the early 1980s, he was involved in the Labour Party in Hackney South and Shoreditch, 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. Through his father-in-law he contacted Tom Pendry, a Labour MP, to ask for help in how to start his Parliamentary career; Pendry gave him a tour of the House of Commons and advised him to run for selection in a by-election due to be held in the safe Conservative seat of Beaconsfield, following the death of the sitting MP Ronald Bell in 1982, and where Pendry knew a senior member of the local party. Blair was chosen as the candidate; he won only 10% of the vote and lost his deposit, and the seat was retained comfortably by Tim Smith for the Tories, but he impressed the then Labour Party leader Michael Foot and got his name noticed within the party. At the time Blair was closely associated with the soft left current in the party centred on the Labour Co-ordinating Committee and espoused (for the time) conventional leftist positions.
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. He found a branch that had not made a nomination and arranged to visit them; coincidentally, the European Cup Winners' Cup final involving Aberdeen FC was happening that night and Blair settled down to watch it with five senior members of the local party before discussing his potential candidacy. With the crucial support of John Burton he won their endorsement; at the last minute he was added to the shortlist and won the selection over displaced sitting MP Les Huckfield. Burton later became his agent and one of his most trusted and longest-standing allies.
Blair's election literature stressed the Labour Party's policies which included opposition to British membership of the EEC, despite having told the selection conference that he personally favoured continuing membership. He also, more enthusiastically, supported unilateral nuclear disarmament, being a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the time. The seat was safely Labour despite the party's collapse in the 1983 UK general election; Blair was helped on the campaign trail by soap actress Pat Phoenix, the girlfriend of his father-in-law Anthony Booth.
Blair stated in the House of Commons on 6 July 1983: "I am a socialist not through reading a textbook that has caught my intellectual fancy, nor through unthinking tradition, but because I believe that, at its best, socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral. It stands for cooperation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear. It stands for equality". The Labour Party is declared in its constitution to be a Democratic Socialist party, not a social democratic party - Blair himself organised this declaration of Labour to be a socialist party when he dealt with the change to the party's Clause IV in their constitution.
Once elected, Blair's ascent was rapid, and he received his first shadow position in 1984 as assistant Treasury spokesman. He demanded an inquiry into the Bank of England's decision to rescue the collapsed Johnson Matthey Bank in October 1985 and embarrassed the government by finding an EEC report critical of British economic policy that had been countersigned by a member of the Conservative government. Blair was firmly aligned with the reforming tendencies in the party, headed by leader Neil Kinnock, and was promoted after the 1987 election to the Trade and Industry team as spokesman on the City of London. He laid down a marker for the future by running for the Shadow Cabinet in 1987, obtaining 77 votes. This was considered a good showing for a newcomer.
As Shadow Employment Secretary, Blair announces that the Labour Party no longer supports the 'closed shop' (December 18, 1989)
The stock market crash of October 1987 raised the prominence of Blair, who inveighed against the 'morally dubious' City whiz-kids as being incompetent. He signalled his modernising stance by protesting against the third-class service for small investors at the London Stock Exchange. Blair entered the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy in 1988, and the next year became Shadow Employment Secretary. In this post he realised that the Labour Party's support for the emerging European 'Social Charter' policies on employment law meant dropping the party's traditional support for closed shop arrangements, whereby employers required all their employees to be members of a trade union. He announced this change in December 1989, outraging the left-wing of the Labour Party but making it more difficult for the Conservatives to attack.
As a young and telegenic Shadow Cabinet member, Blair was given prominence by the party's Director of Communications Peter Mandelson. However his first major platform speech at the Labour Party conference in October 1990 was a disastrous embarrassment when he spoke too fast and lost his place in his notes. He worked to produce a more moderate and electable party in the run-up to the 1992 general election, in which he had responsibility for developing the minimum wage policy that was expected to be strongly attacked by the Conservatives. During the election campaign Blair had a notable confrontation with the owner of a children's nursery, who was adamant that the policy would cost jobs.
When Kinnock resigned after the defeat by John Major in the 1992 UK general election, Blair became Shadow Home Secretary under new leader John Smith. Blair defined his policy (in a phrase that had actually been coined by his current Chancellor Gordon Brown) as "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". This had been an area in which the Labour Party had been weak and Blair moved to strengthen its image. He accepted that the prison population might have to rise, and bemoaned the loss of a sense of community, which he was prepared to blame (at least partly) on '1960s liberalism'. However, Blair spoke in support of equalisation of the age of consent for gay sex and opposed capital punishment.
Smith died suddenly in 1994 of a heart attack. Both Blair and Gordon Brown had been considered as possible leadership contenders and had always agreed that they would not fight each other. Brown had previously been thought the most senior and understood this to mean that Blair would give way to him; however, it soon became apparent that Blair now had greater support. A MORI opinion poll published in the Sunday Times on 15 May found that among the general public, Blair had the support of 32%, John Prescott, 19%, Margaret Beckett 14%, Gordon Brown 9%, and Robin Cook 5%. At the Granita restaurant in Islington on 31 May, Brown agreed to give way. There is no conclusive evidence of the terms of any wider "Granita Pact" but supporters of Brown maintain that Blair undertook to resign as Prime Minister after a set period in favour of Brown. The Labour Party Electoral College elected Blair as party leader on 21 July 1994, the other candidates being John Prescott and Margaret Beckett. After becoming Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, Blair was, as is customary for the holder of that office, appointed a member of the Privy Council, which permitted him to be addressed with the style "The Right Honourable."
The cover of Labour's 1997 general election manifesto
While in Opposition, Blair also revised party policy in a manner that enhanced the image of Labour as competent and modern. He used the term "New Labour" to distinguish the party under his leadership from what had gone before. 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. At the 1996 Labour Party conference, Blair stated that his three top priorities on coming to office were "education, education and education".
Aided by disaffection with the Conservative government (which was 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.
Blair embraces like-minded U.S. President Bill Clinton, a fellow leader of the "Third Way" in politics.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the House of Commons during Prime Minister's Questions.
To the right is Chancellor Gordon Brown
Blair has encouraged reforms to Parliamentary procedures. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to replace the two weekly 15-minute sessions of Prime Minister's Questions, held on a Tuesday and Thursday, with a single 30-minute session on a Wednesday. This reform was said to be more efficient, but critics point out that it is easier to prepare for one long set of questions than two shorter interrogations. There has been a perception that Blair has avoided attending debates and voting in Parliament, although his vote has seldom been needed given Labour's large majorities in the House of Commons. (Labour Party objections to aspects of recent anti-terror and education legislation mean that every vote now matters). In another reform, the Blair government introduced rules governing the sitting time of parliament, ostensibly to make it more businesslike, though arguably reducing MPs' ability to scrutinise legislation effectively. Another innovation has been the monthly press conference at which Blair, less formally or confrontationally than in the Commons, addresses questions. He is seen to be an effective Parliamentary performer, often besting some of the more short-lived recent leaders of other parties. The Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties have each elected new leaders in 2006 ; an ability to match Blair or his likely successor has been a key factor in these selections, though much of the public perception of Blair has been as a performer on TV, where he has appeared modern, informal and articulate and, notably, seemed to capture the mood of the country when Diana, Princess of Wales died. He feels more embattled since the Iraq war. For a 2006 TV audience, he recalled Labour's 1997 election victory: "People used to like me then," he remarked wistfully.
Further reforms include the prominence given to the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, who became known as the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (though the current PMOS is not the press secretary). This role was filled by Alastair Campbell from May 1997 to 8 June 2001. Campbell had been an important cog in the New Labour election machine for the 1997 general election, working with Peter Mandelson to co-ordinate Labour's campaign. In the early years of his first term, Blair relied for his political advice on a close circle of his own staff, amongst whom Campbell was seen as particularly influential: he was given the authority to direct civil servants, who previously had taken instructions only from ministers. Unlike some of his predecessors, Campbell was a political appointment and had not come through the Civil Service. Despite his overtly political role, he was paid from the public purse as a member of the civil service, in one of Blair's earliest moves feared liable to change the traditional political neutrality of the civil service. Campbell was replaced by Godric Smith and Tom Kelly when he moved to become the Prime Minister's Director of Communications and Strategy immediately after Blair's election success on 7 June 2001. Campbell resigned on August 29, 2003, following the Hutton report into the death of Dr. David Kelly.
Blair's first term saw an extensive programme of constitutional alteration. A Human Rights Act was introduced in 1998; a Welsh Assembly and a Scottish Parliament were both set up; most hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords in 1999; the Greater London Authority was established in 2000; and the Freedom of Information Act was passed later that year, with its provisions coming into effect over the next decade. This latter proposal disappointed campaigners whose hopes had been raised by a White Paper of 1998 which promised a more robust Act. No significant progress has been made in reforming the House of Lords since 1999: the debate remains open whether the reformed chamber should be fully elected, fully appointed, or part elected and part appointed.
In the 2001 UK general election, Blair campaigned on improvements to public services, including the National Health Service, based on private finance projects. The Conservatives largely ignored the issue of public services in favour of opposing British membership of Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union, which proved to do little to win over floating voters: the Labour Party preserved its majority, and Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister to win a full second term. However the election was notable for a large fall in voter turnout. The leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, resigned the following morning.
Blair has supported gay rights more then any previous British Prime Minister. Under his Labour Government, the age of consent was equalized, civil unions for gay couples were enacted and the ban on gays in the British armed forces was lifted.
Second term 2001 to 2005
Blair welcomes President George W. Bush to Chequers, the Prime Minister's countryside retreat.
Following the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, Blair was very quick to align the UK with the US, engaging in a round of shuttle diplomacy to help form and maintain a 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. In 2003 he became the first Briton since Winston Churchill to be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress for being "a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States of America" although media attention has been drawn to the fact that Blair has yet to attend the ceremony to receive his medal; some commentators point to the unpopularity of support for the US as explaining the delay. In 2003, Blair was also awarded an Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his support of the United States after 9/11 - the first non-American to be so honoured.
Blair made a case for war against Saddam based on Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction and breach of UN resolutions, but was wary of making a direct appeal for regime change as international law does not recognize that as a legal ground for invasion. A memorandum from a July 2002 meeting that was leaked in April 2005 to The Sunday Times showed that Blair believed that the British public would support regime change in the right political context; however the memo states that legal grounds for such action were weak. On Tuesday 24 September 2002 Downing Street published a dossier based on intelligence agencies' assessments of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Among the items in the dossier was a recently received intelligence report that "the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so". (A briefing paper in February 2003 entitled 'Iraq - its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation' was also issued to journalists; this document was discovered to have taken a large part of its text without attribution from a PhD thesis available on the World Wide Web. Where the thesis hypothesized about possible WMD, the Downing Street version presented the ideas as fact and it was thus subsequently referred to as the 'Dodgy Dossier').
Forty-six thousand British troops, one-third of the total strength of the UK army (land forces), were deployed to assist with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When after the war it was established that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction, Blair's pre-war statements became a major domestic controversy. Many members of the Labour Party, not only those who were opposed to the Iraq war, were among those critical; among opponents of the war, accusations that Blair had deliberately exaggerated the threat were made. Successive inquiries (including those by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, Lord Hutton, and Lord Butler of Brockwell) have found that Blair honestly stated what he believed to be true at the time. These findings have not prevented frequent accusations that Blair lied, most notably during the 2005 election campaign from Conservative leader Michael Howard.
Several anti-war pressure groups want to try Blair for war crimes in Iraq at the International Criminal Court. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, stated in September 2004 that the invasion was "illegal" but did not state the legal basis for this accusation. This assertion by Kofi Annan conflicts with the opinion of the British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith that the war was legal.
United Kingdom armed forces were active in southern Iraq to stabilise the country in the run-up to the elections of January 2005. In October 2004 the UK government agreed to a request from US forces to send a battalion of the Black Watch regiment to the American sector to free up US troops for an assault on Fallujah. At present, British forces remain in Iraq. After the US election, Blair tried to use his relationship with President Bush to bring pressure on the US administration on Israel and Palestine. He has supported the Israeli government's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
On May 1, 2005, The Sunday Times printed a leaked 'Downing Street memo', which appeared to be the minutes of a discussion of Iraq held in July 2002. The memo created a stir particularly among critics of the war by stating "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action ... But the case was thin." In the following weeks, Blair was compelled to repeatedly reiterate his rationale for taking the UK to war, the basic tenets of which he has steadfastly maintained to this day.
In an interview with Michael Parkinson broadcast on ITV1 on 4 March 2006, Blair (the first serving Prime Minister to appear on the chatshow programme) referred to the influence of his Christian faith on his decision to go to war in Iraq, stating that he had prayed about the issue, and saying that God would judge him for his decision: "I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people … and if you believe in God, it's made by God as well."
The peace process in Northern Ireland hit a series of problems and on October 15, 2002 the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended and direct rule returned; attempts to get the Provisional Irish Republican Army to decommission its weapons were unsuccessful and in the second set of elections to the Assembly in November 2003 the Ulster Unionists lost the battle for largest Unionist party to the Democratic Unionists of Ian Paisley, making restarting devolution more difficult. At the same time Sinn Féin became the largest nationalist party.
In its first term, the government had introduced an annual fixed tuition fee of around £1,000 for higher education students (rejecting requests from universities to be allowed to vary the fee), and replaced the remaining student grant with a loan to be repaid once the student was earning over a certain threshold. Despite an explicit manifesto pledge in 2001 not to introduce variable (or "top-up") tuition fees in universities, Blair controversially announced that exactly such a scheme would indeed eventually be brought in with the maximum fee limited to £3,000 per year, while simultaneously delaying the repayment of student loans until the graduate's income was much higher and reintroducing some grants for students from poorer backgrounds.
On August 1, 2003, Blair became the longest continuously serving Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, surpassing Harold Wilson's 1964–1970 term. However, because of the crisis over the suicide of Dr David Kelly, a government scientist who had spoken to a BBC journalist precipitating a major public conflict between the BBC and the government, there were no celebrations. Lord Falconer set up an inquiry under the senior Law Lord Lord Hutton.
The second reading vote on the Higher Education Bill bringing in top-up fees was held on January 27, 2004, and saw the government scrape by with a majority of five, due to a massive backbench Labour rebellion. A first House of Commons defeat had been possible but averted when a small number of Gordon Brown's backbench allies switched sides at the last minute. The next day the Hutton Inquiry reported on the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly.
The Inquiry was widely expected to criticise Blair and his government. In the event, Hutton absolved Blair and his government of deliberately inserting false intelligence into its dossier, but criticised the BBC editorial process which had allowed unfounded allegations to be broadcast.
The report did not satisfy opponents of Blair and of the Iraq war, leading to accusations of a 'whitewash'.
The term "Tony Bliar" is commonly used in anti-war demonstrations against the 2003 Iraq War
Although the Hutton Inquiry had vindicated Blair, evidence to the inquiry raised questions over the use of intelligence in the run up to the war in Iraq. Hutton was the subject of criticism for strictly interpreting his remit; after a similar decision by President Bush, Blair initiated another inquiry (the Butler Review) into the accuracy and presentation of pre-war intelligence. Opponents of the war, especially the Liberal Democrats, refused to participate as it did not meet their demands for a full public inquiry into whether the war was justified.
In April 2004, Blair announced that a referendum would be held on the ratification of the EU Constitution. This represented a significant change in British politics, where only one nationwide referendum had been held, in 1975, on whether the UK should remain in the EEC. It was another dramatic U-turn for Blair, who had previously dismissed calls for a referendum unless the constitution fundamentally altered the UK's relationship with the EU; Michael Howard eagerly seized on the "EU-turn", reminding Blair of his 2003 conference oration that "I can only go one way. I haven't got a reverse gear". The referendum was expected to be held in early 2006; however since the French and Dutch rejections of the treaty, the Blair government has announced that it is putting plans for a referendum on hold for the foreseeable future.
During his second term Blair was increasingly the target for protests. On May 19, 2004, he was hit by two condoms filled with purple flour in the House of Commons, thrown by Fathers 4 Justice. His speech to the 2004 Labour Party conference was interrupted both by a protester against the Iraq war and by a group that opposed the government's decision to allow the House of Commons to ban fox hunting.
On September 15, 2004, Blair delivered a speech on the environment and the 'urgent issue' of climate change. In unusually direct language he concluded that If what the science tells us about climate change is correct, then unabated it will result in catastrophic consequences for our world... The science, almost certainly, is correct. The action he proposed to take appeared to be based on business and investment rather than any tax or legislative attempts to reduce CO2 emissions: ...it is possible to combine reducing emissions with economic growth... investment in science and technology and in the businesses associated with it... The G8 next year, and the EU presidency provide a great opportunity to push this debate to a new and better level that, after the discord over Kyoto, offers the prospect of agreement and action.
In January 2006, General Sir Michael Rose (the former UN commander in Bosnia) joined calls to make Blair accountable: "To go to war on what turns out to be false grounds is something that no one should be allowed to walk away from".
No impeachment has been attempted for 150 years, and no impeachment resolution has been passed since 1806; the last two impeachment trials resulted in acquittals. Many legal authorities consider impeachment to be obsolete (see, e.g., Halsbury).
The case for Blair's impeachment has been outlined by Adam Price MP in a report entitled "A case to answer".
"Anaesthetising somebody and giving their heart electric shocks is not something you just do in the routine run of medical practice", he claimed.
Family problems in the spring of 2004 fuelled speculation that Blair was on the brink of stepping down. In September 2004 off-the-cuff remarks Lord Bragg in an interview with ITV news, said that Blair was "under colossal strain" over "considerations of his family" and that Blair had thought "things over very carefully." This led to a surge in speculation that Blair would resign. Although details of the family problem were known by the press, no paper would report them because to do so "breaches the bounds of privacy and media responsibility" as they did not relate to Mr Blair himself.
Blair underwent a catheter ablation to correct his irregular heartbeat on 1 October 2004, having announced the procedure the day before in a series of interviews in which he also declared that he would seek a third term but not a fourth. The planned procedure was carried out at London's Hammersmith hospital. At the same time it was disclosed that the Blairs had purchased a house at 29 Connaught Square, London, for a reported £3.5 million. Some have speculated that part of No.29 is to be converted into offices for a future Blair Foundation. The purchase also fuelled speculation that Blair was preparing for life after government.
On May 19, 2005 (a fortnight after polling day in the 2005 general election), Blair was treated with an anti-inflammatory drug to control a slipped disc, which had caused him back pain.
G8 and EU presidencies
Tony Blair accepting the presidency of the European Union on 1 July
The rejection by France and the Netherlands of the treaty to establish a constitution for the European Union presented Blair with an opportunity to postpone the doubtful UK referendum on the constitution without taking the blame for failing from the EU. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that the Parliamentary Bill to enact a referendum was suspended indefinitely. It had previously been agreed that ratification would continue unless the treaty had been rejected by at least five of the 25 European Union member states who must all ratify it. In an address to the European Parliament, Blair stated: "I believe in Europe as a political project. I believe in Europe with a strong and caring social dimension."
Chirac held several meetings with Schröder and the pair pressed for the UK to give up its rebate, famously won by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. After verbal conflict over several weeks, Blair, along with the leaders of all 25 member states, descended on Brussels for the EU Summit of the 18 June 2005 to attempt to finalise the EU budget for 2007-2013. Blair refused to renegotiate the rebate unless the proposals included a compensating overhaul of EU spending, particularly on the Common Agricultural Policy which takes 40% of the EU budget. After intense arguments inside closed doors, talks broke down late at night and the leaders emerged, all blaming each other. It is widely accepted that Blair came out on top, making allies in the Netherlands and Sweden and potentially (and crucially) several of the Eastern European accession countries.
It fell to Blair to broker a deal on the EU budget during the UK's Presidency of the European Union during the latter half of 2005. Early international opinion, particularly in the French press, suggested that Blair held a very strong opening position partly on account of the concurrence of British presidencies of the EU and G8. However, early in the UK's six-month term the 7 July London bombings distracted political attention from the EU despite some ambitious early statements about Blair's agenda. Domestically Blair faced further distractions from European affairs including a resurgent Conservative Party under its newly-elected leader David Cameron, and assessments of the British presidency's achievements under Blair have been lukewarm in spite of some diplomatic success including a last-minute budget deal. The most controversial result was an agreement to increase British contributions to the EU development budget for new member countries, which effectively reduced the UK rebate by 20%.
Tony Blair calling the winning Olympic Bid "London's legacy to the Olympic Movement"
after hearing the win at the G8 summit
On July 6, 2005, during the 117th International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Singapore, the IOC announced that the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Games of the XXX Olympiad, were awarded to London over Paris by a small (four-vote) margin. The competition between Paris and London to host the Games had become increasingly heated particularly after French President Jacques Chirac commented three days before the vote that "one cannot trust people [ie: the British] whose cuisine are so bad." The surprise win by London over the perceived frontrunner Paris was said to have been decided by the presence of Blair at the IOC session. Irish IOC member Patrick Hickey said, "This is down to Tony Blair. If he hadn't come here I'd say that six to eight votes would have been lost and London would not be sitting here today winners".
Tony Blair reads a joint statement by the leaders attending the G8 summit, condemning the July 7, 2005 London bombings. To the right is French president Jacques Chirac, to the left is American president George W. Bush and South African president Thabo Mbeki.
2005 London bombings
On Thursday July 7, 2005, a series of four bomb explosions struck London's public transport system during the morning rush hour. At 08:50, three bombs exploded within one minute on three London Underground trains. A fourth bomb exploded on a bus at 09:47 in Tavistock Square. All four incidents are believed to have been suicide bombings. Fifty-six people were confirmed dead, with 700 injured. The incident was the deadliest single act of terrorism in the United Kingdom since 270 died in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and it was the deadliest bombing in London since World War II.
Blair made a statement about the day's London bombings, saying that he believed it was "reasonably clear" that it was an act of terror, and that he hoped that the people of Britain could demonstrate that their will to overcome the events is greater than the terrorists' wish to cause destruction. He also said that his determination to "defend" the British way of life outweighed "extremist determination" to destroy it.
On July 21, 2005, a second series of explosions were reported in London, two weeks and some hours after the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Four controlled explosions, of devices considerably less advanced than those of the previous attacks, were carried out at Shepherd's Bush, Warren Street and Oval underground stations, and on a bus in Shoreditch. Even though the attacks on the 21st were less severe than those on the 7th, Blair was reported to have said that the bombings in London today were intended "to scare people and to frighten them, to make them anxious and worried". He went on to say how the "police have done their very best, and the security services too, in the situation, and I think we have just got to react calmly and continue with our business as much as possible normal".
Concerns about terror attacks led to 10 Downing Street requesting media organizations not to identify the location of Blair's 2005 summer holiday. After Blair attended a public function it was acknowledged that the holiday was in Barbados, as a guest of the singer Cliff Richard (with whom Blair has stayed before).
A Guardian/ICM poll conducted after the first wave of attacks found that 64% of the British population believed that Blair's decision to wage war in Iraq had led indirectly to the terrorist attacks on London. The public did however indicate approval of Blair's handling of the attacks, with his approval rating moving into positive territory for the first time in five years. In December 2005, the Prime Minister was presented with the "Statesman of the Decade" award by the EastWest Institute, a trans-Atlantic think tank that organizes an annual Security Conference in Brussels.
Proposed laws to cope with the threat of terrorism proved extremely controversial; an amendment to require that glorifying terrorism be deliberate in order to be an offence was rejected in the House of Commons by just three votes (a result initially announced as a one-vote margin, due to a miscount). The proposal to allow terrorist suspects to be held for questioning for up to 90 days was defeated on November 9 by a margin of 31 with 49 Labour MPs voting against the government. Instead, MPs supported an amendment to allow questioning for 28 days proposed by veteran backbencher David Winnick. This was Blair's first defeat on the floor of the House of Commons since he became Prime Minister in 1997, and most commentators saw this as seriously undermining his authority.
After Labour's 2004 conference, Blair announced via a BBC interview that he would not fight a fourth general election, an unusual announcement in the UK, as there is no limit on the time someone may serve as Prime Minister. He also announced he would like to serve a "full third term".
In the months following the election, there was frequent speculation over the anticipated date of his departure. The Westminster consensus expected him to go after the proposed UK referendum on the European Union Constitution, but its collapse eliminated this juncture. The July 2005 terror attacks also appear to have strengthened his position. But while bookmakers take bets on his staying, Blair's election agent John Burton said that he will quit the House of Commons at the next election. The official line from the Downing Street press office on this was that it was the "last thing on [Blair's] mind," but there has been no firm denial.
Speculation as to the likely time of Blair's departure and his likely replacement as leader of the Labour party by Gordon Brown, increased in early 2006. Such speculation is repeatedly raised in the press and political circles when any mishap occurs to the government. The case of private loans to the Labour party apparently known to few people other than Blair himself, and the number of such benefactors who have been proposed as candidates to become members of the House of Lords, drew comment on his suitability to hold the post.
If he remains in office until November 26, 2008, Blair will break Margaret Thatcher's record for longest continuous service as Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool, 1812-27.
Blair has said that after stepping down as Prime Minister, he plans to leave front-line politics and does not intend to take a seat in the House of Lords, commenting that it is, "...not my scene".
Education Reforms 2006
The introduction of further reforms to the education system, which restricted the involvement of local education authorities in opening new schools, proved controversial. Labour backbenchers opposed to the proposals produced a rival manifesto, and the Bill to introduce the changes was delayed while the government negotiated with them. The Conservative Party declared its support for the reforms, making it certain that they would be passed but increasing the likelihood that Labour MPs would vote against. On 15 March 2006, the Education and Inspections Bill passed its second reading with 52 Labour MPs voting against; had the Conservative Party voted against instead of in favour, it would have been defeated.
While the terms 'spin' and 'Spin Doctor' came into widespread use in UK politics as early as the late 1980s, it has been an especially prominent element of criticisms of the Blair government. 'Spin' means to selectively present news in a way which minimizes the political damage, and emphasises any positive aspects. A widely-levelled criticism of Blair and his government is that they make excessive use of spin to such an extent that government statements, even if entirely true, are now disbelieved; it is also said that the government has on occasions crossed the line between selective presentation of information and deliberate misleading.
The most widely-publicised example concerned Blair's appeal for trust over the danger from Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, which led to British participation in the invasion of Iraq. One 'intelligence dossier' later distributed on behalf of Blair was substantially plagiarised from an academic thesis available on the internet, with some phrases altered to make them sound more threatening. No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, and Blair was later forced to concede that they had not existed. A consequence of the lead-up to the second Gulf War is the belief that Blair compromised his credibility; however, defenders of Blair point to the fact that he was publishing to the public what he had been told in private and honestly believed at the time - even if such a belief was wrong.
Other complaints involved the front page speculation of various newspapers that the '45 minutes' claim might refer to ballistic missiles which could reach Cyprus. It was later revealed that it referred to battlefield munitions which could only be a threat to an invading force, but the government did not correct the misapprehension; the lack of action was referred to as 'spin by omission'.
Blair had made himself a leading candidate for the Labour leadership by his actions as Shadow Home Secretary in turning around Labour's image as "soft on crime". Support for the police and increasing their powers has been characteristic of the Labour Party under his leadership. While initially these moves attracted a consensus, the government's legislative reaction to the September 11 attacks has been regarded by some as authoritarian. Even before the attacks, the Terrorism Act 2000 forced disclosure of information believed to be of assistance in preventing a terrorist act, or apprehending those involved in such acts.
The 2000 Act gave the police additional powers against a wide range of activities, with reported instances of the Act being used against peaceful protestors (including an 11-year-old girl at a Peace camp outside an RAF base). After September 11, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was passed, allowing foreign nationals to be detained without charge for an indefinite period (subject to appeal to a special tribunal) if they were suspected international terrorists but had committed no offence under United Kingdom law. This provision was later struck down as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. At the 2005 Labour Party conference, the 82-year-old veteran pacifist Walter Wolfgang was forcibly removed from the conference hall after shouting "nonsense" as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended Iraq policy. When he attempted to return without his conference pass, Wolfgang was briefly detained for questioning under section 44 of the Terrorism Act.
Later in 2005, Blair gave personal strong backing to proposals to allow terrorism suspects to be held for questioning for up to 90 days, and dissuaded other Ministers from offering a compromise which might prove more acceptable; the insistence resulted in the first defeat of the Blair Government on the floor of the House of Commons in November 2005.
The flagship anti-crime policy introduced in Blair's first term, Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), have been criticised as excessively punitive and as a way of criminalising non-criminal conduct: an ASBO may be imposed preventing conduct which is entirely legal, but breach of the ASBO is a criminal offence. Examples are on record of ASBOs preventing their subjects from being sarcastic, using the word "grass", or attending a drug clinic which was treating them for their addiction. Opinion polls however show that ASBOs remain popular with the public leading some to suggest that criticism of them comes mainly from the chattering classes who do not regularly experience anti-social behaviour. It could be argued that Blair's crime policies are popular with the majority of the public for their populist, commonsense approach.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has also been criticised for allowing too great a latitude for law enforcement agencies to intercept communications.
In July 2003, Blair became the first Briton since Winston Churchill to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, a honour awarded by Congress and considered the highest expression of appreciation by the American people. This was a controversial honour in the UK, and as of August 2005, Blair had yet to collect the actual medal, though he had already accepted the award.
The emphasis on the so-called special relationship with the USA is hardly unique to Blair. It has been a lynch-pin of British foreign policy since Churchill and Roosevelt collaborated closely during World War II. It has been axiomatic that, since then, British Prime Ministers have whatever limited impact they can have over US policy by arguing with their American counterparts only behind closed doors. Although Harold Wilson declined to send even token forces to Vietnam as President Johnson requested and the 1956 Anglo-French military intervention over the Suez Canal was aborted when Eisenhower indicated a lack of support for the policy underlying this adventure by European allies, British-American collaboration in foreign policy and the exchange of intelligence, bases and weapons has been argued to lend mutual respect to transatlantic relations. Blair does not reveal his thoughts about the Bush administration: he has described Guantanamo only as "an anomaly" and, pressed in a 4 March 2006 interview with Michael Parkinson, would say only that George Bush is someone whom he can work with because "he does what he says". In a February 2003 interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, Blair stated that he and Bush "don't pray together" but vigorously defended his support for the removal of Saddam Hussein, who posed a "threat to the region". Both interviews revealed that faith plays a part in Blair's approach to decision-making. This is another shared feature of their special relationship. Whether it concerns or reassures voters seems to differ in the two countries. Blair's prompt appearance in Washington after the September 11, 2001 attacks seems to have played a part in establishing a mutual respect between the two leaders. But, ultimately, America went to war with the British government at its side. Critics argue that this provided the fig-leaf of an international coalition as well as the military logistics (which US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mistakenly claimed barely to need). In any case, much of the shared "intelligence", especially the so-called "dodgy dossier", has been shown to be deeply flawed.
A 2005 book by the former United Kingdom Ambassador to the USA, Sir Christopher Meyer, concurred with these criticisms implied by the epithets, accusing Blair of being a hawk and insufficiently cautious about the war. Meyer expressed his opinion that Blair could have stopped the war had he acted at an opportune time in the summer of 2002. This view has been criticised as naive: Simon Jenkins, for example, described it as a "folly of diplomatic grandeur" and asserted that Blair has no history of standing firm on anything. Citing the investigation by Vanity Fair magazine, (May 2004 issue), he continued: "Blair was helpless in the face of neocons. When he set conditions, they ridiculed them. Had Britain backed out after the failure of the second UN resolution, the White House would have lost no sleep..."
The Vanity Fair article (which Paul Wolfowitz claims includes partial and mis-quotes) reported that Sir Christopher Meyer was present when, a few days after 9/11, Bush asked Blair to support an attack on Hussein. Blair reportedly replied that he would rather concentrate on ousting the Taliban and restoring peace in Afghanistan. According to Sir Christopher, Bush replied: "I agree with you Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq." Mr Blair, Sir Christopher reports, "said nothing to demur".
Personal property dealings
The Blairs moved into Downing Street in 1997. Despite wanting to keep hold of their Islington home at Richmond Crescent, the cost and logistic difficulty of security measures forced its sale. The house, bought in 1993 for £375,000, was sold for £615,000, significantly below the expected price of £800,000 for similar houses on the street; the subsequent London property boom meant that the property had more than doubled in value seven years later when it was resold for £1.3m, and it was valued at £1.75m in April 2006 .
In 2002, Cherie Blair masterminded the purchase of two new flats in Bristol, where Euan Blair was at university; one of them was for his use, and the other was a rental investment. The flats proved difficult to rent out and attracted some unwelcome publicity and political damage when it was revealed that Cherie had engaged Peter Foster, a convicted fraudster, to negotiate the purchase price.
The Blairs paid a reported £3.6m in late 2004 for a house in Connaught Square, near Marble Arch. Finding a tenant for this also took a long time and they had to reduce the rent sought.
The use of private finance to fund public projects has also been criticised by Labour left-wingers as both an economic bad deal and as privatising public service. The Private Finance Initiative, under which public services are built by private companies and then leased back to the state, began under the Major government and was expanded significantly under Blair. Some critics describe Blair as a reconstructed Conservative or Thatcherite. Shortly before the general election of 2001 The Economist gave a front cover the headline, "Vote conservative" (note lower-case "c") - with a picture of Blair.
Blair has avoided the traditional pigeonholes of British political leaders. He has often (particularly after the invasion of Iraq) been labelled as insincere ("King of Spin", "Phoney Tony"), and has been accused of cronyism due to his perceived penchant for promoting his friends to top jobs. In his early years, Blair was often criticised as an unscrupulous opportunist who was solely interested in doing anything that would get him elected, that was a focus group politician. More recently, his unpopular policy supporting the US over Iraq has demonstrated a politician with more commitment to his own policies despite public opposition. His name has been deliberately mis-spelt 'Tony Bliar' (sometimes 'B. Liar') or 'Tory Blur' by critics of his actions and his policies (particularly his stance on Iraq). The Economist on 5 June 2003 devoted its front cover to a photograph of Blair and the headline, "Bliar?".
Since Blair became Prime Minister, Private Eye has run a regular feature called the St Albion Parish News based on the Blair government. In this series, the parish incumbent ('Rev. A.R.P. Blair MA (Oxon)') combines a relentless trendiness with a tendency to moralise and to exclude all those who criticise him. The series highlights Blair's perceived penchant for spin and his zealous enthusiasms in relation to recent political events.
In his first term of office, Blair was the subject of a satirical comic strip Dan Blair in The Times. This strip spoofed the comic book hero Dan Dare and his nemesis, the Mekon, who represented William Hague in the strip, portrayed with a very large forehead. He has also been parodied in the comic 2000 AD in the series B.L.A.I.R. 1 (a spoof of the old-fashioned strip M.A.C.H.1 written by David Bishop) where he acts as a futuristic crime fighter controlled by an artificial intelligence known as "Doctor Spin".
In opposition under John Smith, the ITV satirical puppet show Spitting Image depicted Blair within the Shadow Cabinet as a schoolboy with a high-pitched voice and bottle-green uniform, complete with cap. The first show after Smith's death featured Blair singing "I'm going to be the leader! I'm going to be the leader!" over and over. Once settled in as leader, the programme, which was in its last years, changed its caricature of Blair to have a small face with an outsized toothy grin. The show ended before Labour gained power.
At the beginning of March 2006, Blair said that Isaac Deutscher's three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky "made a very deep impression on me and gave me a love of political biography for the rest of my life".
John Prescott – bully
Cameron: An upmarket yob?
Arthur Maundy Gregory
Ethos of Corruption
Reforming the Lords
Lord Levy - schmoozing Labour into trouble
Sleaze and political corruption
Bankrolling New Labour
Berlusconi & Blair