For Tony Blair, a
decade of achievements faded into the shadows of the
boyish-looking leader nicknamed ''Bambi,'' just 43 when he
became prime minister a decade ago, has gone gray, his
furrowed brow making him appear worn.
represents a difficult chapter in the past
decade--Princess Diana's death, suicide bombings
in London, scandals leading to the arrests of top
aides, the unpopular war in Iraq that has cost nearly 150
''Hand on heart,
I did what I thought was right,'' Blair said Thursday,
surveying his time in power before announcing he would step
down June 27.
The mood today
could not be more different from the euphoria that greeted
Blair's arrival at 10 Downing St.
Labour Party to power after 18 years under Conservatives
Margaret Thatcher and John Major, he pledged to make Britain
prosperous, boost the working class, make the
government accountable, and restore Britain's standing
on the world stage. A rock-and-roll fan, he seemed
like a breath of fresh air. No sooner was he elected than he
and his wife, Cherie, had a baby.
His first year in
power, 1997, had its elegiac moments: Blair presiding
over the return of Hong Kong, jewel of the British empire,
to China; Blair eulogizing Princess Diana, who was
killed in a Paris car crash.
And there were
triumphs: three consecutive election victories, a booming
economy, diplomacy that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
Britain got a minimum wage. Scotland and Wales got
their own elected parliaments, while hereditary
elements of membership in the House of Lords, the upper
legislative chamber, were sharply curtailed. Gay couples
were allowed to wed in civil partnerships.
victories were engulfed by later events: the 2005 suicide
bombings that killed 52 London commuters, worsening
relations with the Muslims whom Blair had sought to
draw closer to the British fold, a corruption probe,
and the accusation that he had become President Bush's
initially lacked in experience, he made up for with youthful
exuberance and optimism.
''Mine is the
first generation able to contemplate the possibility that
we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending
our children to war,'' he said shortly after becoming
The Iraq War
confounded that hope.
But before Iraq
became the all-consuming issue, Blair had much going for
He revived his
struggling Labour Party, calling it ''New Labour'' and
scrapping old Socialist doctrine for pro-market policies and
leadership and that of Treasury chief Gordon Brown, Britain
emerged from a long economic slump. Brown is expected to
become the next prime minister after a brief party
The pair made the
Bank of England independent, broke Britain out of years
of boom-and-bust cycles, and kept inflation low for years.
Britain is now
the world's fifth-largest economy, with 2007 growth
projections of nearly 3%. The British pound is at its
strongest in more than a decade. Unemployment has been
Funding of the
National Health Service nearly tripled. Hospitals got more
nurses. Waiting lists for critical operations shrunk.
helped families and the poorest communities. Spending on
education doubled. Muslims especially benefited from Blair's
reforms, which included state funding to faith-based
government became engaged in a dialogue with Muslims that
was not there under the Tories,'' said Ahmed Versi,
editor of Muslim News. That was before Blair joined
the Iraq War and the bombs went off on London subways
and a bus.
Protestant, Blair pursued what he called an ''ethical
With a natural
ally in then-president Clinton, he pushed for intervention
in East Timor and Sierra Leone. Two years into his
premiership he joined NATO's campaign to oust Slobodan
Milosevic of Yugoslavia. He championed aid for Africa
and the effort to curb global warming.
was his most successful diplomatic effort. He broke with
previous leaders by offering Sinn Fein, the political voice
of the Irish Republican Army, a place in negotiations
in exchange for an IRA truce. His efforts would
culminate in a historic spectacle Tuesday, when
Catholic and Protestant leaders, lifelong adversaries, were
sworn in at the head of a new provincial government.
vision for his party was clear, the 9/11 terrorist
attacks muddied many of his hoped reforms.
The attacks bound
Britain to the United States. But many of Britain's 1.6
million Muslims felt an immediate and chilling difference. A
raft of antiterrorism legislation authorized police to
hold suspects longer without charge. Dozens of Muslim
groups were banned. Police put mosques under
Then, a day after
Blair rejoiced in London's successful bid for the 2012
Olympics came the transit bombings.
In a video,
bomber Shehzad Tanweer accused Britain of declaring war on
Islam. His Yorkshire accent and history of service to his
community marked him as a homegrown Englishman, and
the sudden realization that he was a jihadist shocked
the nation and seemed to mock Blair's vision of a
antiterrorism measures have followed, and Muslim resentment
But it is Iraq,
and his alliance with the U.S., that dominates his legacy
in the twilight of his rule.
''Very early on,
he made a philosophical commitment to working with
America at all costs,'' Anthony Seldon, a Blair biographer,
told the Associated Press. ''Iraq will be the single
most defining issue for his legacy, but the two
questions are going to be, Was it the decision or the
implementation that was at fault?''
Blair often saw things in black and white.
''He did Iraq
because Iraq was right,'' Seldon said. ''He didn't do it
because he thought he had to.''
legislators initially supported his decision to join the
war, two high-profile Cabinet ministers quit, and criticism
of Blair crescendoed as the argument for
war--weapons of mass
Blair was not the
first British leader to throw in his lot with the
United States. So did Winston Churchill, and Thatcher and
The alliance with
Bush has at times embarrassed Blair. At a summit in
Russia last year, Bush was heard exclaiming, ''Yo, Blair!''
As Blair awkwardly waited by his ally's side, Bush
dismissed his offer to help find a solution to
violence engulfing the Middle East. With the tap of
his finger, Blair realized the microphones had been left on.
Although he is
about to leave office, Blair may be trailed by a criminal
inquiry into a cash-for-honors scandal.
He is believed to
be the first sitting prime minister to be questioned in
a criminal inquiry. He had been called twice as a witness in
an investigation into whether honors, such as
knighthoods and seats in the House of Lords, were
offered in return for loans to political parties.
Three of Blair's
close aides have been arrested and are out on bail: his
chief fund-raiser, his Middle East envoy, and a senior aide.
As for Blair's
future, at 54, he is six years younger than Bush. The
father of four may hit the lecture circuit after he steps
down this summer. An advisory role involving Africa or
the European Union could be in his future.
And there is talk
that he may set up an interfaith forum after he leaves
office, much like the foundation Clinton started.
expected to hold general elections in 2009, at the earliest.
(Paisley Dodds, AP)