Anthony Charles Lynton "Tony" Blair (born May 6, 1953) is an English politician, who has served as Prime Minister from 2 May 1997 to the present. He has been Leader of the Labour Party since 1994 and the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield since 1983.
Blair was elected Leader of the Labour Party in the leadership election of July 1994 following the sudden death of his predecessor, John Smith. Under Blair's leadership the party abandoned many policies it had held for decades. Labour won a landslide victory in the 1997 general election.
He has so far been the Labour Party's longest-serving Prime Minister and the only leader to have taken the party to three consecutive general election victories.
Blair was born at the Queen Mary Maternity Home in Edinburgh, Scotland on 6 May 1953, the second son of Leo and Hazel Blair (née Corscadden). Leo Blair, the illegitimate son of two English actors, had been adopted by a Glasgow shipyard worker named James Blair and his wife Mary as a baby. Hazel Corscadden was the daughter of George Corscadden, a butcher and Orangeman who had moved to Glasgow in 1916 but returned to (and later died in) Ballyshannon in 1923, where his wife Sarah Margaret née Lipsett gave birth to Blair's mother Hazel above her family's grocery shop. The Lipsett family in Donegal supposedly originated with a German Jewish immigrant to Ireland prior to the 18th century. George Corscadden was from a family of Protestant farmers in County Donegal, Ireland, who descended from Scottish settlers that took their family name from Garscadden, now part of Glasgow. The Blair family was often taken on holiday to Rossnowlagh, a beach resort near Hazel's hometown of Ballyshannon in south County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. Tony Blair has one elder brother, Sir William Blair, a High Court Judge, and a younger sister, Sarah. Blair spent the first 19 months of his life at the family home in Paisley Terrace in the Willowbrae area of Edinburgh. During this period his father worked as a junior tax inspector whilst also studying for a law degree from the University of Edinburgh. His family spent three and a half years in the 1950s living in Adelaide, Australia, where his father was a lecturer in law at the University of Adelaide. The Blairs lived close to the university, in the suburb of Dulwich.
The family returned to Britain in the late 1950s, living for a time with Hazel Blair's stepfather William McClay and her mother at their home in Stepps, near Glasgow. He spent the remainder of his childhood in Durham, England, his father being by then a lecturer at Durham University. After attending Durham's Chorister School from 1961 to 1966, Blair boarded at Fettes College, a notable independent school in Edinburgh, where he met Charlie Falconer (a pupil at the rival Edinburgh Academy), whom he later appointed Lord Chancellor. He reportedly modelled himself on Mick Jagger. His teachers were unimpressed with him: his biographer, John Rentoul reported that, "All the teachers I spoke to when researching the book said he was a complete pain in the backside, and they were very glad to see the back of him". Blair was arrested at Fettes, having being mistaken for a burglar as he climbed into his dormitory using a ladder, after being out late.
After Fettes, Blair spent a year in London, where he attempted to find fame as a rock music promoter, before going up to the University of Oxford to read jurisprudence at St John's College. As a student, he played guitar and sang for a rock band called Ugly Rumours. During this time, he dated future American Psycho director Mary Harron. He became influenced by fellow student and Anglican priest Peter Thomson, who awakened within Blair a deep concern for religious faith and left wing politics. Whilst he was at Oxford, Blair's mother Hazel died of cancer which was said to have greatly affected him. After graduating from Oxford in 1976 with a Second Class Honours BA in Jurisprudence, Blair became a member of Lincoln's Inn, enrolled as a pupil barrister and met his future wife, Cherie Booth (daughter of the actor Tony Booth) at the Chambers founded by Derry Irvine (who was to be Blair's first Lord Chancellor), 11 King's Bench Walk Chambers. He acted predominantly for employers or wealthier clients, as in Nethermere v. Gardiner where he unsuccessfully defended employers that had refused holiday pay to employees at a trouser factory. Rentoul records that, according to his lawyer friends, Blair was much less concerned about which party he was affiliated with than about his aim of becoming Prime Minister.
Blair married Booth, a practising Roman Catholic and future Queen's Counsel, on 29 March 1980. They have four children: Euan Anthony, Nicholas John, Kathryn Hazel, and Leo George. Leo 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 11 July 1849.
Although the Blairs stated that they had wished to shield their children from the media, their children's education was a cause of political controversy. All three attended the Roman Catholic London Oratory School, criticised by left-wingers for its selection procedures, instead of a poorly performing Roman Catholic school in Labour-controlled Islington, where they then lived, in Richmond Avenue. There was further criticism when it was revealed that Euan received private coaching from staff from Westminster School.
Early Political Career
Blair joined the Labour Party shortly after graduating from Oxford in 1975. During the early 1980s, he was involved in Labour politics in Hackney South and Shoreditch, where he aligned himself with the "soft left" of the party. He unsuccessfully attempted to secure selection as a candidate for Hackney Borough Council. Through his father-in-law, the actor Tony Booth, he contacted Labour MP Tom Pendry to ask for help in pursuing a Parliamentary career. Pendry gave him a tour of the House of Commons and advised him to stand for selection as a candidate in the forthcoming by-election in the safe Conservative seat of Beaconsfield, where Pendry knew a senior member of the local party. Blair was chosen as the candidate; at the Beaconsfield by-election he won only 10% of the vote and lost his deposit, but he impressed Labour Party leader Michael Foot and acquired a profile within the party. In contrast to his later centrism, Blair described himself in this period as a Socialist. A letter that he wrote to Foot in July 1982, eventually published in June 2006, gives an indication of his outlook at this time.
In 1983 Blair found that the newly created constituency of Sedgefield, a notionally safe Labour seat near where he had grown up in Durham, had no Labour candidate. Several sitting MPs displaced by boundary changes were interested in securing selection to fight the seat. He found a branch that had not made a nomination and arranged to visit them. 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 in the 1983 UK general election endorsed left-wing policies that the Labour Party advocated in the early 1980s. He called for Britain to leave the EEC, though he had told his selection conference that he personally favoured continuing membership. He also supported unilateral nuclear disarmament as a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Blair was helped on the campaign trail by soap actress Pat Phoenix, his father-in-law's girlfriend. Blair was elected as MP for Sedgefield, despite the party's landslide defeat in the general election.
Blair stated in his maiden speech 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,rather than 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 front bench appointment in 1984 as assistant Treasury spokesman. In May 1985 he appeared on BBC's Question Time arguing that the Conservative Government's Public Order White Paper was a threat to civil liberties. Blair 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 a European Economic Community report critical of British economic policy that had been countersigned by a member of the Conservative government. By this time Blair was aligned with the reforming tendencies in the party, headed by leader Neil Kinnock, and was promoted after the 1987 election to the shadow Trade and Industry team as spokesman on the City of London. In 1987, he stood for election to the Shadow Cabinet receiving 77 votes.
After the stock market crash of October 1987, Blair raised his profile further when he castigated City traders as "incompetent" and "morally dubious", and criticised poor service for small investors at the London Stock Exchange. In 1988 Blair entered the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and the following year he 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. As a young and telegenic Shadow Cabinet member, Blair was given prominence by the party's Director of Communications, Peter Mandelson. He gave his first major platform speech at the 1990 Labour Party conference.
In the run-up to the 1992 general election, Blair worked to modernise Labour's image and was responsible for developing the controversial minimum wage policy.
When Neil Kinnock resigned as party leader after Labour's fourth successive election defeat, Blair became Shadow Home Secretary under John Smith. The Labour Party at this time was widely perceived as weak on crime and Blair worked to change this, accepting that the prison population might have to rise, and bemoaning the loss of a sense of community, which he was prepared to blame (at least partly) on "1960s liberalism". On the other hand he opposed capital punishment. He defined his policy, in a phrase coined by Gordon Brown, as "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".
In 1993, while still Shadow Home Secretary, Blair attended the annual invitation-only Bilderberg conference.
John Smith died suddenly in 1994 of a heart attack. Blair beat John Prescott and Margaret Beckett in the subsequent leadership election. After becoming Leader of the Opposition, Blair was, as is customary for the holder of that office, appointed a Privy Councillor, which permitted him to be addressed with the style "The Right Honorable".
Leader of the Labour Party
Blair announced at the end of his speech at the 1994 Labour Party conference that he intended to replace Clause IV of the party's constitution with a new statement of aims and values. This involved the deletion of the party's stated commitment to "the common ownership of the means of production and exchange", which was widely interpreted as referring to wholesale nationalization. The clause was replaced by a statement that the party is one of democratic socialism. A special conference approved this highly symbolic change in April 1995.
Blair also revised party policy in a manner that enhanced the image of Labour as competent and modern using the term "New Labour" to distinguish the party from its past. 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 the unpopularity of John Major's Conservative government (itself deeply divided over the European Union), "New Labour" won a landslide victory in the 1997 general election, ending 18 years of Conservative Party government with the heaviest Conservative defeat since 1832. Blair became the youngest person—at age 43—to attain the office of Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812—at age 42.
Blair became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 2 May 1997, serving concurrently as First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service, Leader of the Labour Party, and Member of Parliament for the constituency of Sedgefield in the North East of England and Privy Counsellor. With victories in 1997, 2001, and 2005, Blair was the Labour Party's longest-serving prime minister, the only person to lead the party to three consecutive general election victories.
Blair is both credited with, and criticised for, moving the Labour Party towards the centre of British politics, using the term "New Labour" to distinguish his pro-market policies from the more collectivist policies which the party had espoused in the past.
In domestic government policy, Blair significantly increased public spending on health and education while also introducing controversial market-based reforms in these areas. Blair's tenure also saw the introduction of a National Minimum Wage, tuition fees for higher education, and constitutional reform such as devolution in Scotland and Wales. The British economy performed well, and Blair kept to Conservative commitments not to increase income tax, although he did introduce a large number of subtle tax increases referred to as stealth taxes by his opponents.
His contribution towards assisting the Northern Ireland Peace Process by helping to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement after 30 years of conflict was widely recognised. Following the Omagh Bombing on 15 August 1998 by dissidents opposed to the peace process which killed 29 people and wounded hundreds, Blair visited the County Tyrone town, and met with victims at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital. From the start of the War on Terror in 2001, Blair strongly supported United States foreign policy, notably by participating in the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. He encountered great support as a result, over the policy itself and the circumstances of British victory in both conflicts. For his unwavering support of the United States government's foreign policy, Mr. Blair was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal on 18 July 2003.
On 7 September 2006 Blair publicly stated he would seek reelection in the future.