Thoughts & Opinion on Tony Blair
Comment at end
6th May, 2007
RECENT COMMENTS ON TONY BLAIR
Tim Hames, of The Times, on 18th June, 2007, says Blair’s legacy “is NOT all about Iraq”.
Happy Birthday Mr Blair. At only 54 today you should not be leaving politics, and I sincerely hope you won’t.
Another American take on Tony Blair, from the New York Times, though quite balanced and not painting him as a saint. No-one, and that includes me, thinks he is a saint. Just a man who did his best in a difficult job. I’m still proud of him.
Excerpt from today’s New York Times:
Tony Blair Prepares for a Subdued Exit
The war in Iraq is cited almost universally by Mr. Blair’s critics as their reason to wish him ill as he leaves office, and they have been punishing his party in the local and regional elections.
But, in the eyes of many Britons, Mr. Blair’s legacy is far more nuanced, dragged down further by his stumbling efforts to upgrade public education and health care, but elevated by his success in redefining Britain’s political center of gravity.
4th May, 2007
From “Time”- Michael Elliott’s thoughtful article on why we’ll miss Tony Blair.
Mainly, he says, because Blair understands the problems, asks the right questions, and sees the complex nature of the answers. This, the writer proffers, differentiates him from President Bush.
Article written Thursday, May 03, 2007
WHY YOU’LL MISS TONY BLAIR
In 2006 Tony Blair publicly stated he would step down as party leader of the British Labour Party but has not yet given a date for his departure.
When Tony Blair was elected to Britain’s House of Commons in 1983, he was just 30, the Labour Party’s youngest M.P. Labour had just fought and lost a disastrous election campaign on a far-left platform, and Margaret Thatcher, fresh from her victory in the Falklands War, was in her pomp. The opposition to Thatcher was limited to a few ancient warhorses and a handful of bright young things. Blair, boyish Blair, quickly became one of the best of the breed.
Nobody would call Blair, 54 on May 6, boyish today. His face is older and beaten up, his reputation in shreds. Very soon, he will announce the timetable for his departure from office. In a recent poll for the Observer newspaper, just 6% of Britons said they found Blair trustworthy, compared with 43% who thought the opposite.
In Britain–as in much of the rest of the world–Blair is considered an unpopular failure.
Well, not by me. I’ve been watching Blair practically since he entered politics–at first close up from the House of Commons press gallery, later from thousands of miles away. In nearly a quarter-century, I have never come across a public figure who more consistently asked the important questions about the relationships between individuals, communities and governments or who thought more deeply about how we should conduct ourselves in an interconnected world in which loyalties of nationality, ethnicity and religion continue to run deep. Blair’s personal standing in the eyes of the British public may never recover, but his ideas, especially in foreign policy, will long outlast him.
Britons (who have and expect an intensely personal relationship with their politician) love to grumble about their lot and their leaders, especially if–like Blair–they’ve been around for a decade. So you would never guess from a few hours down the pub how much better a place Britain is now than it was a decade ago. It’s more prosperous, it’s healthier, it’s better educated, and–with all the inevitable caveats about disaffected young Muslim men–it is the European nation most comfortable
with the multicultural future that is the fate of all of them. It would be foolish to give all the credit for the state of this blessed plot to Blair but equally foolish to deny him any of it.
In today’s climate, however, this counts for naught compared with the blame that Blair attracts for ensnaring Britain in the fiasco of Iraq. As the Bush Administration careered from a war in Afghanistan to one in Iraq, with Blair always in support, it became fashionable to say the Prime Minister had become the President’s poodle.
This attack both misreads history and misunderstands Blair. Long before 9/11 shook up conventional thinking in foreign affairs, Blair had come by two beliefs he still holds: First, that it is wrong for the rest of the world to sit back and expect the U.S. to solve the really tough questions. Second, that some things a state does within its borders justify intervention even if they do not directly threaten another nation’s interests. Blair understood that today any country’s problems could quickly spread. As he said in a speech in 2004, “Before Sept. 11, I was already reaching for a different philosophy in international relations from a traditional one that has held sway since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648–namely, that a country’s internal affairs are for it and you don’t interfere unless it threatens you, or breaches a treaty, or triggers an obligation of alliance.”
Blair’s thinking crystallized
during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. For Blair, the actions of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic were so heinous that they demanded a response. There was nothing particularly artful about the way he put this. In an interview with Blair for a TV film on Kosovo after the war, I remember his justifying his policy as simply “the right thing to do.” But Blair was nobody’s poodle. He and Bill Clinton had a near falling-out over the issue of ground troops. (Blair was prepared to contemplate a ground invasion of Kosovo, an idea that gave Clinton’s team the vapors.) The success of Kosovo–and that of Britain’s intervention to restore order in Sierra Leone a year later–emboldened Blair to think that in certain carefully delineated cases the use of force for humanitarian purposes might make sense. As far back as 1999, he had Iraq on his mind. In a speech in Chicago at the height of the Kosovo crisis, Blair explicitly linked Milosevic with Saddam Hussein: “two dangerous and ruthless men.”
In office, moreover, Blair had become convinced of the dangers that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed. He didn’t need 9/11 to think the world was a risky place. As a close colleague of Blair’s said to me in 2003, just before the war in Iraq, “He is convinced that if we don’t tackle weapons of mass destruction now, it is only a matter of time before they fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorists. If George Bush wasn’t pressing for action on this, Blair would be pressing George Bush on it.” To those who knew him, there was simply never any doubt that he would be with the U.S. as it responded to the attacks or that he would stay with the Bush Administration if it chose to tackle the possibility that Iraq had WMD.
The Prime Minister, of course, turned out to be disastrously wrong. By 2003, Iraq was already a ruined nation, long incapable of sustaining a sophisticated WMD program. And the Middle East turned out to be very different from the Balkans and West Africa. In a region where religious loyalties and fissures shape societies and where the armies of “the West” summon ancient rivalries and bitter memories, it was naive to expect that an occupation would quickly change a society’s nature. “When we removed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein,” Blair told Congress in 2003, “this was not imperialism. For these oppressed people, it was their liberation.” But we have learned the hard way that it is not for the West to say what is imperialism and what is liberation. When you invade someone else’s country and turn his world upside down, good intentions are not enough.
Yet that on its own is not a sufficient judgment on Tony Blair. He will forever be linked to George Bush, but in crucial ways they saw the world very differently. For Blair, armed intervention to remove the Taliban and Saddam was never the only way in which Islamic extremism had to be combatted. Far more than Bush, he identified the need to settle the Israel-Palestine dispute–“Here it is that the poison is incubated,” he told Congress–if radical Islam was to lose its appeal. In Britain, while maintaining a mailed fist against those suspected of crimes, he tried to treat Islam with respect. He took the lead in ensuring that the rich nations kept their promises to aid Africa and lift millions from the poverty and despair that breed support for extremism. The questions Blair asked–When should we meddle in another nation’s life? Why should everything be left to the U.S.? What are the wellsprings of mutual cultural and religious respect? How can the West show its strength without using guns?–will continue to be asked for a generation. We will miss him when he’s gone.
Thank you for this article, Mr Elliott.
I’m missing him already, and I’m British and proud to be so at least partly BECAUSE of Mr Blair’s international position and understanding on so many important issues. I’m disgusted at my countrymen’s lack of clear thinking on Blair and his reasons for ‘asking the questions’. The press, the written British press, disgust me even more. Blair – truly a prophet in his own time.
29th April, 2007Portillo says – ” … Blair Has Made Britain a Better Place”
Omitting Michael Portillo’s opening words – “Despite himself…” as wrongheaded, I quote Mr Portillo’s article in The Times:”…. this country is in many ways a success. It has improved while Blair has been prime minister, sometimes because of him. He really has helped to chase away homophobia. Civil partnership ceremonies have brought joy to many couples and pleasure to friends who might once have sneered at the idea. Differences in the colour of our skins seem to matter less than ever, an extraordinary success given the growing cultural rift between militant Islamism and the secular West.Britain attracts entrepreneurs, oligarchs and migrants. Little Englandism is dead. We no longer feel inferior to France and Germany, and have become cosmopolitan. Cheap travel is broadening our horizons.Yet Britain is freethinking, culturally dynamic and full of fun. At least we can console ourselves that growing inequality is the flipside of an energetic capitalism that keeps the economy motoring.Blair will retire unlamented, after all. But he leaves behind a country more easy-going than the one he inherited, less insular and more self-confident. No wonder that the Conservatives have yet to define what their new dawn will bring.Tony Blair: from student rocker to disputed world leader.Channel News Asia provides an analysis of Tony Blair’s decade in the hot seat.Excerpt: Prime Minister Tony Blair, who marks 10 years in power on Wednesday, will be remembered for his media-savvy transformation of British politics, but above all for the Iraq war.Blair, who famously fronted a student rock band called Ugly Rumours at Oxford University, has become one of the world’s most controversial leaders after backing the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.British involvement in the Gulf is still a divisive issue four years on, and his governing Labour Party is slumped in the polls.The 53-year-old – expected to announce his resignation within two weeks – now admits his departure could help reverse both his party and his successor’s fortunes.“But I also believe… that the essential New Labour position, which is to get over some of the old divisions of left and right in politics … will hold,” he said before the May 2 anniversary of his 1997 landslide election win.28th April, 2007John Major, Tony Blair’s predecessor at Number 10, suggests to the Prime Minister that “as a relatively young man” he should not get bogged down in looking at what he once was and what he once did.Easy for Major to say, since apart from starting the Northern Ireland initiatives, no mean feat, I can’t think of much else he did. Blair’s been a prime minister of a very different colour.
Mr Major advises Blair that there is life after politics, but admits that Mr Blair shows no signs of noticing that.
12th March, 2007
“Why Tony Blair has ceased to play his generation’s game.”
March 10th – a thoughtful and fair-minded article by Charles Moore on the Prime Minister, and his generation’s lack of historical perspective. Click here for full Telegraph article
“Things Can Only Get Better!
This wasn’t and isn’t all rubbish. An open, optimistic, social democratic vision of the world is a lot better than most of the competition. But what it wholly, almost proudly lacks, is any sense of history, and therefore of tragedy.
That lack, too, is characteristic of my generation. As the first people in living memory to whom, collectively, nothing very bad had ever happened, we felt little need to know about the past. Mr Blair captured that cheerful emptiness brilliantly. His New Labour rhetoric was as clear and bright and summery as the shallow end of a swimming pool.
And so things went on happily enough until another member of my generation came into view. Osama bin Laden is 50 years old today.
He is typical of my age cohort in quite a different way, dressing a babyish, Baader-Meinhof-type rebellion against rich daddies in the cloak and turban of an ancient faith. On September 11, 2001, he changed the subject all right.
For most of the critics, this was the moment when Tony Blair began to go wrong. Nice, kind, smiling Tony became apocalyptic, power-crazed, Bush-toadying Tony.
That is what I would expect most of my generation to think. The worst of its obsession with being nice is a tendency to pass by on the other side of the road when something really difficult needs to be done, criticising those who have the courage to try to do it.
This is not the place to rehearse the arguments about the War against Terror all over again. It is obvious that Mr Blair has made grave mistakes in it. But he has also, in Churchill’s phrase, not fallen below the level of events. He has learnt fast what my generation forgot – that history has no inevitable progress and that everything we value in our way of life has bitter enemies who must be defeated.
It is tragic that it is for this, and not for his superficialities, that he is now being persecuted. If he would only disappear and come back in about 10 years’ time, he might make a prime minister of whom his generation should really be proud.”
24th February, 2007
Blair – Sacrificed to Iraq
John McCain has said that Tony Blair has “sacrificed his political career because of Iraq”.
McCain, a staunch defender of President George W. Bush’s new Iraq troop deployment strategy, is worried that a cutback of British troops in southern Iraq announced by Blair this week could lead to stronger control by “Iranian-backed Shiite” forces. But he said Blair and the British deserve gratitude for their efforts.
“He has literally sacrificed his political career because of Iraq,” McCain said during an appearance before the World Affairs Council and the City Club of Seattle. “That is a great testament to his political courage.”
Excerpt from The Australian – 24th February, 2007
Going Nowhere In A Hurry
“HAVING entered 10 Downing Street as the liveliest British Prime Minister in generations, Tony Blair is ending his reign a decade later as the political equivalent of the living dead. Dead, because from the moment he promised last September to be gone within a year his ministers, his party and his public began looking over his shoulder to presumed successor Gordon Brown while waiting for Blair to do the decent thing and shuffle off.
John Howard, whose decade in power has coincided with Blair’s, seems increasingly like a man who has already implemented his agenda, but Blair is still only 53 – three years younger than Howard was when he entered the Lodge – and is showing all the ambition and ideas of a young man. Almost every day he announces long-term reforms such as charging people for driving on British roads or cutting hospital waiting times, revamping the House of Lords, overhauling pensions, reviving Britain’s nuclear energy industry and renewing its nuclear weapons program.
But Blair has many achievements of which to be proud, from peace in Northern Ireland to overseeing an economic boom that has resulted in Britain overtaking France and Italy to become the fourth largest economy after the US, Japan and Germany. Managing to retain the vitality that Margaret Thatcher brought to the private sector while breathing new life into a public sector she gutted, Blair helped Britain regain its most valuable long-term characteristic: a remarkable ability to cope with dramatic change. The country that spawned the Industrial Revolution has been nimble enough during the past decade to once again embrace globalisation, moving from manufacturing to services as its primary engine of growth.
The supposedly staid Old Country has changed time and again, moving from empire to nation-state, then European Union member, and Blair continued the transformations by devolving power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The surging economy allowed Labour to pour money into its public services; GPs now earn 63 per cent more than they did four years ago, an average of pound stg. 118,000 ($292,785) a year. Blair admits he was slow to back that extra money with structural reforms based on injecting consumer choice and market forces into public services, but the education and health systems have improved and crime is down.
He told the BBC last week: “I will leave office early enough to do something more with my life. So yes, of course I will want to have something that has got a real purpose to it, and climate change is certainly something I’m interested in; there are many other things, too.” Any deal to replace the Kyoto agreement will not be nailed until after Bush leaves office in January 2009, so Blair is already quietly reaching out to Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The contrast with Howard, who has felt free to take pot shots at Obama and other Democrats over Iraq, shows that even though Blair will leave office first, he plans to be a player for much longer than his Australian counterpart.”
The Blair He Could Have Been
By David Ignatius (USA)
Washington Post, Wednesday, January 31, 2007
At the beginning of Tony Blair’s political career, his Tory opponents gave him the nickname “Bambi” because of his fawn-like appearance. Now at the end of his 10 years as prime minister, Blair is mocked in Britain as America’s “poodle,” a slavishly loyal supporter of George Bush and the Iraq war.
Blair had a bit of both animal instincts, deer and dog, but he also had the brilliant political gifts that might have made him a truly great prime minister and the defining politician of his era. That’s what makes his story so sad: This immensely talented politician was devoured by Iraq — and by his support for an American president he kept thinking, wrongly, he could dissuade from mistakes.
Watching Blair deliver a farewell address to the World Economic Forum in Davos last weekend, it was impossible not to think of what might have been. He gave a visionary speech about the values of global interdependence that will be necessary in the 21st century if the world is to survive. The speech seemed to me, in part, a declaration of independence from Bush, the president who took so much from Blair and gave so little in return.
In terms of Blair’s reputation, his global manifesto was too late to do him much good. When he leaves office as prime minister, probably this summer, his political legacy will be summed up in one ruinous word: Iraq. But perhaps other politicians — especially some of the Democratic presidential candidates who are full of ambition but short on ideas — will pay attention to what Blair had to say at Davos.
Blair tried to address the crucial disconnect of the modern world — between a global economy that is seamlessly integrated and a global political system that is broken and ineffective. He went to the heart of this problem of global governance: How can institutions be fixed so that the overriding problems of the 21st century, such as climate change, poverty in Africa and the conflicts in the Middle East, can actually be solved?
The British prime minister proposed some specific fixes, most of which departed from current American policy. To strengthen the U.N. Security Council, he suggested adding Germany, Japan, Brazil, India, and perhaps a Muslim or African nation — initially through a “bridging mechanism” that would provide semi-permanent status without a veto. To make the United Nations itself more effective, he urged consolidating its jumble of ineffective agencies so that it can speak with one voice in each country. He proposed merging the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, improving their effectiveness and reducing their parochial European and American tilts, respectively. And he urged expansion of the Group of Eight nations to include emerging superstars such as China and India.
“We need a multilateralism that is muscular,” Blair said. He argued that the problem wasn’t so much a lack of political will as a lack of effective mechanisms to implement goals on which everyone agrees. He cited the genocidal conflict in Darfur, which he described as “a scandal; not a problem, a scandal.” He also argued for a new binding agreement on global warming to replace the Kyoto accord and urged the world to meet the target he has set for Britain of a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. In all these comments, he sounded like a leader for a world that badly needs one.
The mystery is how this man who believes so passionately in a multilateral agenda became the apologist and enabler for the most unilateralist U.S. administration in modern history. Blair’s supporters say he saw no alternative after Sept. 11, 2001, but to stand with America. At each step deeper into Iraq, he appeared to have misgivings — as in his insistence on the need for a second U.N. resolution to provide legal authority for the war. But when the U.N. vote failed, and when his later efforts to sway the administration’s Middle East policy went unheeded, Blair followed along meekly. The final indignity was when he stood silently by Bush in December as the president trashed proposals to engage Syria and Iran — an idea Blair had privately championed.
Blair got it right when he said, in answer to a question after his Davos speech, that the West’s fine talk of democracy and freedom has little meaning if it is not anchored in a sense of justice. Without such bedrock values, the grand goals of the Atlantic alliance are empty. Sadly, that might be Blair’s own political epitaph: A great leader who too often subordinated his own values to please an American president.
From The Age Australia
Execution date awaits Tony Blair
James Button, London September 9, 2006
“The brutal truth”: a letter written by dissident Labour MPs this week put it bluntly — Tony Blair’s time as British Prime Minister is over. HOW can he stay? Think of the months ahead: Labour falling further in the polls, the Tories gloating, neither journalists nor public servants nor the world at large paying any heed to his policy statements because they might soon be undone.
Imagine a cabinet meeting where he and his successor-in-waiting, Chancellor Gordon Brown, butt heads on a vital issue: what minister is going to back the Prime Minister when he’ll soon be gone?Hear the constant talk of frozen government, panicked MPs calling for renewal to counter a resurgent Conservative Party, the tedious demand every time he fronts a microphone: when are you going?
How long can Tony Blair stay? Will he make it to Christmas? The questions abounded after Mr Blair announced on Thursday (early yesterday Melbourne time) that he would quit within a year, but defiantly resisted calls to set an exact time. Mr Blair insisted on going his own way, believing that a use-by date would leave him fatally undermined. He is already.
There remains a frail hope that Mr Blair can choose the terms of his retirement, provide the “stable and orderly transition” he has promised, and give Labour the best chance of winning the next election, due most likely in 2009. That hope depends on the Prime Minister himself but even more on Mr Brown, almost certainly Britain’s next prime minister. Like two old lovers who long ago lost the light in their eyes, they must take the floor and, before an out-of-tune band and a thinning crowd, dance their last waltz. The party depends on it.
Will they? They have been political partners for more than 20 years. Together they have led a Government that, while achieving less than it promised when it took power in 1997, has by any European or even global standard been highly successful. But their relationship is always volatile — productive at best, poisonous at worst.
After a week of warfare between their rival camps, media leaks and counter-leaks and reports of a “ferocious shouting match” at Downing Street, it seemed the poison was winning out. They made half an attempt to patch things up on Thursday. From Scotland, Mr Brown said he would support whatever the Prime Minister decided. Yet “there are questions about what happens in the time to come, and it’s right to say that I, like others, have had questions”. They had worked together for 20 years “in difficult times as well as very good times” and would still do so, Mr Brown said.
But he had no warm words for his old friend on what must have been one of the hardest days of Mr Blair’s career.
At a school in north London where he made the announcement, Mr Blair looked uncharacteristically tired and sullen. He made a statement and took no questions. Even that smelt of defeat, since Mr Blair is a consumate performer in front of reporters. He promised not only to go within a year — the first time he has been so explicit — but to reveal his leaving date ahead of time. He apologised to the British people for his party’s behaviour: “It has not been our finest hour.”
If all goes to plan, the bets are that he will announce the date in February. It will probably be in May, a decade since he became Prime Minister. A quick election will produce a successor by June, in time for the new leader to take on the Conservatives’ David Cameron in the House of Commons before it rises for the northern summer.
While senior ministers John Reid and Alan Johnson have been mooted as candidates for the leadership, it is unthinkable — if Labour is not to implode — that it can be anyone but Mr Brown. Environment Secretary David Miliband, a Blair supporter touted as a future prime minister, made it clear this week: only Mr Brown has the ideas to renew Labour.
Why, then, did this terrible week happen? Why were so many Labour MPs bent on forcing Mr Blair to name a date, even though his backers had virtually confirmed he would go next year?
Has Labour gone mad?
Stranger still, there is no policy rift in the party as there was in the Conservative Party (over the poll tax and Europe) in the last days of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.
New Labour has made its philosophy — a free-market economy mixed with a strong welfare state — the political status quo. That may be Mr Blair’s greatest achievement and neither Mr Brown, who helped create it, nor Mr Cameron intend to unravel it.
Yes, the opinion polls are bad. Yet while one senses the public has wearied of him after nine years, there is respect for his domestic achievements and no great clamour for him to go. It is true that he lost the trust of many Britons over the Iraq war. But this was above all an issue for the progressive middle-class and Muslims; Labour’s working-class voters cared far less about Iraq.
Yet in a sense Iraq has finished him. It was Iraq that returned to people’s minds when Mr Blair refused to split with US President George Bush and call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. That infuriated many MPs and alarmed even members of Mr Blair’s cabinet.
This week a memo leaked from Downing Street outlining plans to stage-manage Mr Blair’s departure. It envisaged a roadshow of photo opportunities, hospital visits, cheering crowds and appearances on popular BBC programs such as Songs of Praise. The one thing likely to spoil the party was Iraq, the memo said. “It’s the elephant in the room, let’s face up to it … Is TB up for it?”
Time is another weight on Tony Blair. In any long-serving government, some policies fail, and people grow tired. Prime ministers derive their authority from patronage, the power to pick ministers, wrote the Financial Times’ Philip Stephens.
“However, it is a wasting asset. Long-serving prime ministers discover that there comes a moment when those appointed to office are outnumbered in the party by the disappointed: the sacked and the overlooked. That has now happened to Mr Blair.”
Yet for all his dwindling authority, Mr Blair holds an ace. He is leaving, Mr Brown is not and knows he cannot play Brutus and knife the most electorally successful prime minister in Labour’s history. The transition must be orderly, the dance can still be done.
Here’s how it might happen. Mr Blair addresses the Labour Party conference this month to a clamorous “thank you” for leading the party to three straight election wins. He and Mr Brown announce they are working together on policy goals for the next eight months.
In the new year he reveals his departure date, and gives a serious of thoughtful valedictory lectures on global and domestic politics. He goes in June, giving Mr Brown two years to set his stamp on the Government and country, before Labour fights an election holding a large majority over the Conservatives.
It may be Labour’s best chance, but don’t bet the party will take it. The momentum for change may be too great and Mr Brown, not surprisingly, is itching to go. “The brutal truth,” as a letter written by dissident MPs put it this week, is that Mr Blair’s time is over.
At the north London school on Thursday the buoyancy was gone. When he walked out to make his statement, he departed from custom. Normally he starts media performances with a rub of the hands, a grin and a crisp “Right …” This time he was lost for words for an instant. He stood before the microphone and just breathed out.
It was the most telling sigh Britain has heard in a long time.
Thirteen years on a rollercoaster
1983 Enters Parliament as MP for Sedgefield, aged 30.
1992 Promoted to shadow home secretary.
July 1994 Elected as the youngest leader of the Labour Party. Begins to modernise.
1995 Introduces the term “New Labour” to distinguish the party from its past.
May 1997 Labour wins the general election by a landslide after 18 years in opposition. Blair, aged 44, becomes the youngest PM since 1812.
October 1997 Meets with Sinn Fein head Gerry Adams.
April 1998 Signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
May 1998 Holds a referendum to create a new assembly for London and establish first direct elections for mayor.
November 1998 Established the devolved Scottish Parliament. Government of Wales Act.
1999 As part of NATO, Britain joins Kosovo war.
June 2001 Labour re-elected with another landslide.
September 2001 Blair emerges as strong ally of the US, supports the “war on terror”.
September 2002 Blair unveils an intelligence dossier claiming Iraq could deploy banned weapons within 45 minutes.
March 19, 2003 Britain sends 45,000 troops and joins the US-led “coalition of the willing” in an invasion of Iraq. British troops remain in Iraq.
July 18, 2003 Biological warfare expert David Kelly found dead, an apparent suicide. Kelly was the source of a BBC report claiming the government “sexed up” a dossier on illegal weapons in Iraq.
August 1, 2003 Blair becomes the longest-sitting Labour PM, surpassing Harold Wilson (1964-1970).
August 2003 The Hutton Report clears the government of inserting false information into the Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction dossier.
April 2004 Blair announces a referendum on the ratification of the EU Constitution. In 2006, the Government put the referendum on hold.
May 2005 Labour wins a third term, with a reduced majority.
September 2005 Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown assumes the role of prime minister-in-waiting at the Labour Party conference.
November 2005 Blair suffers first parliamentary defeat in eight years as PM after MPs say drive for tougher anti-terror powers went too far.
April 2006 Blair calls off private discussions with Brown, relations strained.
July 2006 Poll shows Blair less popular than his rival for the first time in 12 years.
July 2006 Blair criticised for failing to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East.
September 2006 Blair undermined by the drafting of a private letter from a majority of the 2001 intake of Labour MPs urging him to resign.
Other interesting matters
Read Tony Blair’s Life Story at Downing Street website
An audio in which Nick Cohen asks the question – “Why has the Left lost its way?”
Cohen wonders why the Left today seems to offer little support to democrats worldwide, such as in Iraq, if in any way their “fight” is backed by western governments? Is it only anti-Americanism, anti-Bush, or anti-Blair? WHY does the Left largely ignore or minimise the crimes of such as Saddam in past years, citing his backing at such times by the west as evidence of the west’s corruption, complicity or ulterior motive. Has the Left become anti-democracy?
EU thoughts on Blair on his retirement speech, 11th May, 2007
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, standing in the same room in Trimdon Labour Club where he launched his campaign to be Labour leader in 1994, said of his ten years in power: “I think that’s long enough for me and more especially for the country. Sometimes the only way you can conquer the pull of power is to set it down.”
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “Tony Blair has taken Britain from the fringes to the mainstream of the European Union. He has done this by engagement, not by vetoes. He has brought to Europe energy, engagement and ideas and leaves an impressive legacy including his commitment to enlargement, energy policy, his promotion of action against climate change, and for fighting poverty in Africa. Above all, he has shared in our determination to create an open, reforming and strong Europe. I greatly value our friendship and I wish him success for the future.”
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “Britain has been under Tony Blair’s leadership one of Denmark’s closest international partners … working together in the EU or in international operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said of Blair: “He greatly contributed to the transformation of Britain, that Britain today is again competitive, a country with a significant influence, and at the same time he left an indelible mark on the British Left.”
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said that with Blair’s departure “a prominent leader disappears from the European and world stage. During tense moments, Blair was the binding force. Blair did not shrink from rowing against the current if he thought it was necessary.”
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: “Tony Blair leaves office with an honoured place in our history assured. From his first days as prime minister he devoted unprecedented time and attention to bringing the appalling conflict in Northern Ireland to an end.”
MEP Andrew Duff, leader of the Liberal Democrat European Parliamentary Party, said: “Tony Blair’s departure from the European scene, like that of Jacques Chirac, will be met with great relief. He has failed to live up to his early promise on Europe. He was undermined by Gordon Brown on the euro. Worst of all, Tony Blair and his ministers have sought to blunt Europe’s Constitutional development into a mature transnational parliamentary democracy. They have resisted the strengthening of the EU’s own fundamental rights regime. The tragedy is that Blair has wanted to be a good European, but has never known how to be one.”