Tony Blair was prime minister for a decade from 1997 – 2007 responsible for moving the Labour Party from the left towards the centre ground of British politics, resulting in an unprecedented three consecutive terms in power for the party.
Anthony Blair was born on 6 May 1953 in Edinburgh. Educated at Oxford University, he became a barrister and in 1983 was elected Labour member of parliament for Sedgefield.
He soon became identified with a group of self-conscious party ‘modernisers’ (which also included Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson), who sought to make Labour more acceptable to the electorate by repudiating its association with the trade unions, unilateral nuclear disarmament, public ownership and high taxation.
In 1994, following the unexpected death of then leader John Smith, Blair became Labour Party leader after Gordon Brown stood aside to avoid splitting the pro-modernising vote in the leadership ballot. Blair quickly attained unquestioned authority as leader, which was further underlined by Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election.
At 43, he was the youngest premier since Lord Liverpool in 1812. He attempted to promote a youthful, modern image of Britain symbolised by BritPop, BritArt and the Millennium Dome.
Some of his policies were genuinely radical, especially the constitutional reforms that delivered a measure of self-government to Wales and Scotland.
But a promise to reform public services proved less easy to implement, and a controversial reliance on private enterprise initiatives did not seem to deliver the expected improvements in transport, education or health care.
Blair was re-elected in 2001. His second term was more troubled, being dominated by a rift with his former ally, Chancellor Gordon Brown.
In 2002 – 2003 Blair risked his personal authority by supporting the US government’s ‘war on terror’, despite serious disquiet in his own party and among the wider public. Blair was re-elected in 2005, in an unprecedented third consecutive term for a Labour prime minister.
The same year he chaired the G8 summit at Gleneagles and focused on two issues – climate change and Africa – which had become increasing priorities for him.
Blair stepped down in June 2007 and was succeeded as prime minister by Gordon Brown. Blair and his allies succeeded in making the Labour Party electable again, after almost two decades in opposition. To his critics, this achievement was made at the cost of abandoning the party’s principles.
To his supporters, he was a man willing to risk public unpopularity in the pursuit of policies (most notably the war in Iraq) that he felt were morally justified.
- Anthony Blair Biography and Profile (BBC)