Prime minister. Educated at Fettes College, Edinburgh, and St John's College, Oxford, Tony Blair followed his elder brother William to Lincoln's Inn and qualified as a lawyer. He entered Parliament in 1983 as Labour MP for Sedgefield, Durham, and soon made his mark as an articulate and forceful speaker and an adroit TV performer. He was elected to the shadow cabinet in 1988 and was spokesman on Home Affairs when John Smith died in 1994. Blair won the leadership contest with ease, defeating John Prescott and Margaret Beckett. He pursued Neil Kinnock's policy of working to shed Labour's ‘loony left’ image: ‘New Labour's’ reward was a massive majority at the general election of May 1997. Insisting that his administration would be a radical reforming ministry, he undertook a series of initiatives, not all of which seemed thought out. The consequences of devolution in Scotland, Wales, and London appeared to surprise the government when local people claimed influence and the nationalists did well. Abolition of the hereditary element in the Lords was carried without, it seemed, much idea of what was to follow. Blair's sympathy for the EEC was inhibited by the poor performance of the Euro, and he found some difficulty in wooing the business community without alienating traditional Labour support. Knitting together Old and New Labour proved, at times, difficult. Blair's personal popularity remained high but the Conservative opposition under William Hague managed a considerable comeback. Nevertheless, at the general election of 2001 Blair's government was retained for a second term with its majority intact and faced the challenge from the spread of international terrorism. His third election victory in 2005 made him the most successful leader his party had ever had.
Whereas the threat of terrorism helped to unite the country, and perhaps gained support for the government of the day, Blair's intervention in Iraq, in conjunction with the Americans, proved deeply divisive. His government was accused of doctoring evidence to gain support for the war. An engaging television style and a mastery of the House of Commons helped Blair to retain much personal popularity. His most remarkable political success was probably helping to bring peace to the shattered province of Northern Ireland, though this owed much to the attack upon the Twin Towers in New York in 2001 which persuaded a number of Americans who had given support to the IRA that terrorism was a doubtful policy. But Blair's third term proved difficult as power drained away. Like many prime ministers, he outstayed his welcome. In contrast to the speed with which Saddam Hussain in Iraq had been overthrown, pacification of the country proved protracted and bloody, and was not helped by a resurgence of fighting in Afghanistan after the Taliban had regrouped. At home there were damaging accusations of corruption and croneyism and the prime minister was singed when he was interviewd by the police in the ‘sale of peerages’ case. In 2007 he made way for his long‐serving chancellor, Gordon Brown and accepted the post of UN envoy to the Middle East. In retrospect Blair's ten years in office seem curiously ephemeral, beset by initiatives which were ill‐thought out and reforms uncompleted. ‘A short attention span’ was one laconic valediction.
Subjects: British History.