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Tony Blair

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The Rt Hon. Tony Blair

Image:tonyblair1.jpg

Appointed PM 2 May 1997
PM Predecessor John Major
Date of Birth 6 May 1953
Place of Birth Edinburgh, Scotland
Political Party Labour
Constituency Sedgefield

The Right Honourable Anthony Charles Lynton "Tony" Blair (born 6 May 1953) is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He has led the Labour Party since the death of John Smith in 1994, and 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 now the Labour Party's longest-serving Prime Minister, and the only person to have led the party to three consecutive general election victories.

He moved the Labour Party towards the centre of British politics, using the term "New Labour" to distinguish his party's new support for privatised industries and market inducing reforms from its past belief in Fabian socialism. However, critics on the left feel that he has compromised its founders' principles, and that his government has moved too far to the right, placing insufficient emphasis on traditional Labour priorities such as the redistribution of wealth. Since the advent of the "War on Terror" his agenda has been dominated by foreign affairs and he has aligned himself closely with George W. Bush, sending British forces to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation and conflict. His party won an unprecedented third term in the 2005 general election, but its majority in the House of Commons was reduced considerably to just 67. While Blair is not in any danger of losing a vote of no confidence, the falling Labour vote has renewed speculation about how long his leadership will continue.

Contents

Early and private life

Blair was born in Edinburgh in Scotland. His father Leo was a barrister and later a law lecturer who was active in the Conservative Party. Leo Blair had ambitions to stand for Parliament in Durham but was thwarted when he had a stroke when Blair was 11, an event which affected Blair deeply. He spent most of his childhood years in Durham. After attending the Durham Choristers School, Blair was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh (sometimes called the "Eton of Scotland"), where he met Charlie Falconer whom he would later make Lord Chancellor. Biographer John Rentoul said "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, Blair enrolled as a pupil barrister and met his future wife, Cherie Booth, at the Chambers of Derry Irvine, also a future Lord Chancellor.

Blair married Booth on 29 March, 1980. They have three sons (Euan, Nicky, and Leo) and one daughter (Kathryn). Leo holds the distinction of being the first child officially born to a sitting Prime Minister in 150 years, since Francis Albert Rollo Russell was born to Lord John Russell on 11 July, 1849. While the Blairs have stated that they wish to shield their children from the media, they have not always been able to do so. Leo was the centre of a debate over the MMR vaccine when Tony Blair refused to say that his son had received the controversial treatment.

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. Blair has twice lodged complaints about press stories concerning his children. However, the fact that the family have occasionally held photocalls together has led some to accuse him of exploitation, and such photographs have been used on Private Eye covers (http://www.ugandandiscussions.co.uk/1030/).

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

Begins political career

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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 in 1982, 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, but impressed the then Labour Party leader Michael Foot and got his name noticed within the party.

In 1983, Blair found that the newly-created seat of Sedgefield, near where he had grown up in Durham, had no Labour candidate. Several sitting MPs displaced by boundary changes were interested, but Blair managed to win the nomination. The seat was safely Labour despite the party's collapse in the 1983 UK general election; Blair was helped on the campaign trail by soap actress Patricia Phoenix, the girlfriend of his father-in-law Anthony Booth.

In opposition

Once he was in Parliament, Blair's ascent was rapid. He was given his first shadow post 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 which 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 71 votes. This was considered a good showing for a newcomer.

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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 for being incompetent. He signalled his modernising by protesting against the third-class service for small investors at the Stock Exchange. He 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 the same 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 was a disastrous embarrassment in October 1990 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 which 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 defeat by John Major in the 1992 UK general election, Blair became Shadow Home Secretary under 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.

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Tony Blair arrives for John Smith's funeral, May 20, 1994

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 Tony Blair as Party Leader on 21 July 1994. The other candidates were John Prescott and Margaret Beckett.

Leader of the Labour Party

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

While in opposition, Blair also revised party policy in a manner which enhanced the image of Labour as competent and modern. He used the term "New Labour" to distinguish 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 (who were dogged by allegations of corruption, and long running divisions over Europe), "New Labour" achieved a landslide victory over John Major in the 1997 UK general election. At age 43, Blair became Britain's youngest prime minister since the Earl of Liverpool in 1812.

First Term 1997–2001

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Blair embraces like-minded U.S. President Bill Clinton, a fellow leader of the "Third Way" in politics.

Immediately after taking office, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown gave the Bank of England the power to set the base rate of interest autonomously. The traditional tendency of governments to manipulate interest rates around the time of General Elections for political gain is thought to have been deleterious to the UK economy and helped reinforce a cyclical pattern of boom and bust, for which Blair frequently criticises previous governments. Brown's decision was popular with the City, which the Labour Party had been courting since the early 1990s. Together with the government's avowed determination to remain within projected Conservative spending limits, it helped to reassure sceptics of the Labour Party's new-found fiscal "prudence". Brown, who had his own following within the Labour Party, was a powerful and independent Chancellor who was given exceptional freedom to act by Blair, although later reports by Downing Street insiders have said that Blair grew to regret this as he was cut out of important fiscal decisions.

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 debate and voting in Parliament, although his vote is seldom needed given Labour's large majorities in the House of Commons.

Further reforms include the prominence given to the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, who became known as the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman. 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 his predecessors, Campbell was a political appointment and had not come through 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 ultimately resigned on 29 August 2003.

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

Blair's first term saw an extensive programme of constitutional reform. A Human Rights Act was introduced in 1998; a Welsh Assembly and a Scottish Parliament were both set up; and 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 further 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 1999, Blair presided over British involvement in the Kosovo War. The Labour Party in opposition had criticised the Conservative government for weakness over Bosnia, and Blair was one of those urging a strong line by NATO against Slobodan Milosevic. He persuaded the US Clinton administration to support the use of ground troops should aerial bombardment fail to win the war, although in the event they were not needed. His speech setting out the Blair Doctrine of the International Community was made one month into the war, in Chicago on April 22, 1999. [1] (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/international/jan-june99/blair_doctrine4-23.html). The same year he was awarded the Charlemagne Award by the German city of Aachen, for his contributions to the European idea and to European peace.

In the 2001 UK general election, Blair defined the election as being about improvements to public service. This specifically included the National Health Service. The Conservatives largely ignored the issue of public services in favour of opposing British membership of European Monetary 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 sudden and large fall in voter turnout. The leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, resigned, becoming the first Conservative Party leader never to have served as Prime Minister; his successors Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard became the second and currently third holders of this distinction (although Austen Chamberlain never became Prime Minister, he only led the Conservative MPs, and thus technically was never the leader of the Conservative Party).

Second Term 2001–2005

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Blair welcomes President George W. Bush to Chequers, the Prime Minister's countryside retreat.

Following the September 11 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 the allied coalition prior to their attack on Afghanistan (in which British troops participated). He maintains this role to this day, showing a willingness to visit countries on diplomatic missions that other world leaders might consider too dangerous to visit. In 2003 he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the United States Congress for being "a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States of America." [2] (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c108:1:./temp/~c108vOFQ9V::)

Iraq war

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

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 which 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.

46,000 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. However, successive inquiries (including those by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, Lord Hutton and Lord Butler) have found that Blair honestly stated what he believed to be true at the time.

Blair shakes hands with President Bush on  , on the day  became Interim Prime Minister of
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Blair shakes hands with President Bush on 28 June 2004, on the day Iyad Allawi became Interim Prime Minister of Iraq

Blair and Bush were unsuccessfully nominated in 2004 for the Nobel Peace Prize by Jan Simonsen, a maverick Norwegian politician. Several anti-war pressure groups want to try Blair for war crimes in Iraq at the International Criminal Court (Bush cannot be tried because the USA is not a signatory to the treaty). The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, stated that the invasion was "illegal" in September 2004.

The 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.

Domestic politics

After fighting the 2001 election on the theme of improving public services, Blair's government raised taxes to increase spending on education and health in 2002. Blair insisted that the increased funding must be matched by internal reforms. The government introduced a scheme to allow local NHS hospitals financial freedom, although the eventual shape of the proposals allowed somewhat less freedom than Blair would have liked after an internal struggle.

In the 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 in work. Despite a manifesto pledge in 2001 not to introduce variable (or "top-up") tuition fees in universities, Blair announced that such a scheme would eventually be brought in with the maximum fee limited to 3,000, while simultaneously delaying the repayment of student loans until a graduate income was much higher and reintroducing some grants for students from poorer backgrounds.

On 1 August 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 fight between the BBC and the government, there were no celebrations. Blair 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 a majority of 5 due to a 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.

The term "Tony Bliar" is commonly used in  demonstrations against the
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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 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 represents a significant change in British politics, where only one nationwide referendum has been held (this was the 1975 referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EEC). It was a dramatic U-turn for Blair, who had previously dismissed calls for a referendum unless the constitution fundamentally altered Britain'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 have announced that they are putting plans for a referendum on hold for the foreseeable future.

During his second term Blair had increasingly become the target for protests. On 19 May 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 then by a group who opposed the government's decision to allow the House of Commons to ban fox hunting.

On 15 September 2004, Tony 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. [3] (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/green/story/0,9061,1305030,00.html). If he does press the issue at the G8, this would be expected to lead to conflict with the United States, which has opposed the Kyoto Protocol.

On 6 February 2005, Blair became the longest-serving Labour prime minister: his 2,838th day in office moved him past the combined length of 7 years 9 months that comprised Harold Wilson's four terms during 1964-1966, 1966-1970, February-October 1974 and October 1974-March 1976.

Attempted impeachment

On 25 August 2004, Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price announced that he would attempt to impeach Blair [4] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3600438.stm) despite there being practically no support for such a proposal in the House of Commons in any of the three major parties. The resolution did not pass and was widely perceived to be a publicity stunt.

Price argued that Blair has "caused injury to the state" and "breached his constitutional duties" by lying to Parliament. Price claimed the few Plaid Cymru and Scottish nationalist MPs, and a number of Labour backbenchers have expressed support, though only one (Peter Kilfoyle) has revealed his support to the public. The campaign is supported by the right-wing Spectator magazine and its editor, Conservative MP Boris Johnson, although Johnson declined to sign the impeachment proposal.

The impeachment charge is summarised into four specific charges laid against Blair, all relating to the Iraq war: misleading Parliament and the country; incompetence and negligence; undermining the constitution; and entering into a secret agreement with the President of the United States. Impeachment is an archaic method of bringing to trial those who cannot or should not be tried by a lesser court than Parliament. An impeachment process could be initiated by a single MP, but must be approved by a vote of the House of Commons, in which the Government has a large majority. However, the procedure cannot begin until the independent Speaker of the House of Commons allows debate on the impeachment motion. The impeachment campaign drafted a motion for a Select Committee to investigate the charges and bring in an impeachment resolution, and this motion is currently open for MPs to sign. The Speaker will decide whether to order a debate after assessing the number of signatures. No impeachment has been attempted for one hundred and fifty 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).

Health problems

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

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Tony Blair making his 2004 Labour Party conference speech, a few hours before his catheter ablation

Family problems in the spring of 2004 fuelled speculation that Blair was on the brink of stepping down. Lord Bragg, a close friend of the Blair family, admitted that Blair was "under colossal strain", that "considerations of his family became very pressing" and that Blair had thought "things over very carefully." This led to a surge in speculation that Blair would resign. Several Cabinet ministers urged Blair to continue.

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 No.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.

Third Term 2005–Present

At approximately 4:28 a.m. BST on 6 May 2005, the Labour Party won its 324th seat (Corby), and therefore officially won the 2005 General Election. Labour had won an historic third consecutive term in office and the next day, Blair was invited to form a Government by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The reduction in the Labour majority and the low share of the popular vote led to some Labour MPs calling for Blair to leave office sooner rather than later; among them Frank Dobson who had served in Blair's Cabinet during his first term. However, dissenting voices quickly vanished as Blair entered into June 2005 and took on European leaders over the future direction of the European Union.

The rejection of the treaty to establish a constitution for the European Union by France and Holland presented Blair with a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card, whereby he could ditch the seemingly unwinnable UK referendum on the constitution without taking the blame for failing the EU. In the week after the Franco-Dutch rejections, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that the Parliamentary Bill to enact a referendum was suspended indefinitely. This announcement served to infuriate the Franco-German axis (the controlling force of the EU since its inceptions in the 1950s) of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schrder, as well as EU presidency holders Luxembourg, all of whom demanded that the ratification process continue throughout the union nonetheless. The latter is widely seen as attempt by the French to deflect blame from themselves for the failure of the constitution to progress - the treaty required ratification from all 25 European Union member states.

In a further attempt to create a smokescreen around his humiliating defeat in the French referendum, Chirac held several meetings with Schrder and the pair pressed for Britain to give up its rebate, famously won by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. After verbal conflict across several weeks, Blair, along with the leaders of all 25 member states, descended on Brussels for the EU Summit of the 18th June 2005 to attempt to finalise the EU budget for 2007-2013. The British rebate was put to the sword, but holding a veto on the issue Blair refused to negotiate unless the proposals included a complete overhall of EU spending, particularly on the Common Agricultural Policy (which takes 40% of the EU budget despite employing 5% of the population and producing 2% of the output). 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 Holland and Sweden and potentially (and crucially) several of the Eastern European accession countries, in pressing for spending reform. It now falls onto Blair himself to broker a deal whilst forcing reform, as he assumes the 6-month rotating EU presidency on the 1st July. International opinion, particularly in the French press, suggests that Blair holds a very strong position at present, and with the assumption of the EU presidency the UK will simultaneously preside over the EU and the G8.

Caricature and satire of Blair

Blair has avoided traditional pigeon-holes of British political leaders. He has been labelled as insincere ("King of Spin", "Phoney Tony"), and in his early years was often criticised as an unscrupulous opportunist who was solely interested in doing what would get him elected. However, his unpopular but obviously sincere commitment to supporting the U.S. over Iraq has rendered that criticism obsolete. Blair is accused of "cronyism" due to his perceived penchant for promoting his friends to top jobs; the fact that "Tony" rhymes with "crony" has facilitated easy slogans.

In opposition under John Smith, the ITV satirical puppet show Spitting Image depicted Blair within the Shadow Cabinet as a schoolboy with 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 had ended before Labour gained power.

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 where he acts as a futuristic crime fighter controlled by an artificial intelligence known as "Doctor Spin".

Since 2001, he has been called "Bush's poodle" or the 'Governor of the 51st state' due to his close co-operation with the USA — an alliance somewhat upsetting to many supporters of his party, which traditionally allies with the Democrats.

His name is deliberately mis-spelled 'Tony Bliar' (sometimes 'B. Liar') by critics of his actions and his policies (particularly his stance on Iraq, a policy notably unpopular on the left of politics). Accusations that Blair has deliberately deceived people are frequently made in respect of the period before the Iraq war: although successive inquiries have cleared Blair of misleading the public about the intelligence he received before the war, those who opposed the war generally believe the reasons given to the public for this policy were not the real reasons for his actions.

See also


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References

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