Number 10 Downing Street

The official site of the British Prime Minister's Office

Tony Blair

Labour | 1997 - 2007

Tony Blair

Born

6 May 1953, Edinburgh, Scotland

Dates in office

2 May 1997 - 27 June 2007

Political party

Labour

Major acts

Civil Partnership Act 2004

Allowed legal recognition of civil partnership relationship between two people of the same sex.

Interesting facts

Blair initiated reforms in the House of Commons, modernizing the format of Prime Minister's Question Time.

Tony Blair, the longest serving Labour Prime Minister ever, oversaw the Northern Irish peace process, public sector reform, and the response to the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks.


Tony Blair was born in 1953 in Scotland. After a gap year, he attended the University of Oxford and read law, afterwards becoming a barrister. He joined the Labour Party in 1975 and, in 1983, successfully fought the safe seat of Sedgefield. Gordon Brown was also elected in 1983 and the two became firm allies.

Blair assumed several Shadow Cabinet roles before being made Shadow Home Secretary in 1992. Blair and Brown’s friendship was irrevocably changed in 1994 when the Labour leader, John Smith, died suddenly. Blair won – overwhelmingly – the subsequent leadership contest, having made an agreement with Brown that if he did not stand, he would become a powerful chancellor should Labour win the next election.

Blair was seen as a new kind of politician with tremendous charisma, arguably the finest opposition leader of modern times – even succeeding in reforming ‘Clause IV’ of the Labour constitution. It was little surprise when Labour won the 1997 general election by a landslide majority of 179. Blair became Prime Minister on 2 May 1997.

Significant constitutional change happened quickly, with Scottish and Welsh devolution, reform to the House of Lords, the Human Rights Act and a Freedom of Information Act. One of Blair’s biggest achievements came in 1998 when the Northern Irish peace process really got underway with the Good Friday Agreement. On foreign affairs, Blair became increasingly convinced of Britain’s need to engage, joining the American bombing of Iraq in 1998. A landmark came in 1999 when he risked much to protect the Kosovars, his concept of ‘liberal interventionism’ explained in his ‘Chicago’ speech on ‘The Doctrine of the International Community’. Limited military involvement in Sierra Leone in 2000 shored up the democratically elected government.

Thanks to Blair’s leadership, a healthy economy and a poor showing by the Conservative Party, Labour won the 2001 general election with another landslide, this time 167 seats. Blair’s priority for the second term was to step up the pace of public sector reform, which took shape in the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, bills on Foundation Hospitals, Academy Schools and university tuition fees, and with the burgeoning ‘choice agenda’. Blair also intended to call a referendum over Britain adopting the Euro, but events were to prevent this.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks became defining moments for Blair and his legacy as he allied with the USA and President Bush over the need to confront militant Islamism, first in Afghanistan in 2001 and then, much more controversially, in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. The case for war in the UK had been built around the widespread belief that Saddam harboured weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which were not subsequently found. This, together with criticism over use of the machinery of government and doubts over the legality of the UK’s involvement, led the previously popular Blair to become a divisive figure. Despite this, he led Labour to a third general election victory in 2005, with a much reduced but still significant majority of 66. The 7/7 London explosions by British-born Muslim suicide bombers led Blair to try to tighten civil liberties, another cause of public division.

In 2006, the Israel-Lebanon war saw a sizeable Labour rebellion against Blair over his reluctance to criticise Israel and his continued support for Bush. He resigned as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007.

Dr. Jon Davis, Mile End Group