free trialproducts & servicesabout usFAQsA-Z index

 News Archive - Commons INDEX

     Blair now longest serving Labour premier  <<back  next>>

Tony Blair has become the longest serving Labour prime minister in history.

As the Labour leader passes his 2,838th day in post, he overtakes the combined length of Harold Wilson's two terms during the 1960s and 1970s.

One of the youngest prime ministers in political history, Blair appears set for a possible historic third election victory.

No previous Labour prime minister has served two full terms - let alone securing a third successive election victory.

Whilst Tony Blair has signalled that he will not fight a fourth election, he has underlined his determination to serve a full third term.

That would give him a longer service than Margaret Thatcher, who left office after 11 years.

Blair secured the Labour leadership in 1994, aged just 40, following the death of John Smith.

He had previously held the post of shadow home secretary, where he was Michael Howard's opposite number.

The longest serving premier was Sir Robert Walpole who notched up a total of 20 years and 314 days between 1721 to 1742.

Tony Blair swept to power in a landslide victory in May 1997 with an overall Commons majority of 178 seats, ending 18 years of Labour opposition, a few days before his 44th birthday.

He was the youngest British prime minister for nearly 200 years.

Four years later he led his party to an historic second victory with a net loss of only six seats, the first time a Labour government has been elected for a second successive term.

He promised massive investment in failing public services, especially health and education, coupled with reforms as yet unspecified, but expected to include much greater private sector involvement.

Three months after his second victory, on September 11, 2001, he was plunged into an international crisis by the unprecedented suicide terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths, including many British citizens.

Without hesitation he declared that the British government would stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States in any action, including military force, to hunt down the perpetrators.

He has been highly active in helping to build a worldwide coalition of states to defeat global terrorism.

But by early 2002 his zealous championing of the United States was beginning to cause rumblings of discontent among some Labour backbenchers, especially at the prospect of an attack on Iraq.

His defence of Stephen Byers, along with the Hunduja and Mittal affairs, added to his problems. There were even reports of talk among a few MPs of a leadership challenge, a notion unthinkable since 1997.

Whilst many thought it would be radical reform of public services which would define his second term, it has undoubtedly been his involvement in the Iraq war and his relations which America which will be remembered.

He is a barrister by profession, specialising in trade union and industrial law. After a Scottish public school education, and a law degree at Oxford, he was the last-minute choice for a County Durham mining seat at Labourís lowest ebb in 1983, and soon impressed with his Opposition speeches on Treasury, Employment and Home Affairs.

He coined the phrase "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime".

His runaway election as party leader in 1994 after the early death of John Smith (and the withdrawal of Gordon Brown) sealed the right-ward shift of the party and the victory of the modernisers over the socialists of "Old Labour".

He inherited and accelerated the work of his predecessors Neil Kinnock and John Smith to make Labour electable.

His first major initiative as Leader was to rewrite the party constitution, ditching the Clause 4 commitment to public ownership.

He has attracted a new breed of loyal - some would say sycophantic - Blairite backbenchers, but has so far retained the support of many on the centre-left of the party who saw him as Labourís only available path to power.

In 1996 he published "New Britain - My Vision of a Young Country". After the 1997 general election, he liked to mingle with pop music and sports stars, and has been criticised for promoting a cult of youth.

As prime minister he has been extremely popular; his standing with the electorate remained almost undiminished during his first term, only declining temporarily during 2000.

In June 1999 he suffered serious reverses in the European parliament elections when Tories swept the board, on a low turnout; and there had been signs in the Welsh and Scottish elections a month earlier that core Labour voters felt ignored and were refusing to vote Labour.

But his popularity was restored well in time for a second sweeping victory. It was not until March 2002 that there was any evidence that the Conservatives might be making some limited headway in closing the gap.

He had a major political embarrassment over the Millennium Dome, a project he inherited but decided to continue, and with the resignation under clouds of senior ministers: the Welsh secretary Ron Davies, the Paymaster-General Geoffrey Robinson and Peter Mandelson, the friend credited as the architect of his victory.

He bought Mandelson back into the Cabinet as Northern Ireland secretary 10 months after he had resigned as trade and industry secretary, only to sack him again as a result of the Hinduja passports affair in January 2001.

His choice as lord chancellor of his former legal mentor Derry Irvine proved equally controversial.

His government was rocked and had to take emergency powers in the autumn of 2000 by protests over high motor fuel taxes, when demonstrations at depots threatened the supply of fuel.

The Conservatives overtook him in the opinion polls for the first time, but Labourís lead was soon restored after the promise of concessions brought the protests to an end.

In this, and in the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis, opponents accused him of "dithering". The epidemic eventually led to the postponement of the 2001 local elections and the expected date of the general election for a month.

Sure touch
Mr Blair showed a sure touch after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, but floundered for a while after the revelation of the Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone's £1m gift to Labour, and the soft-pedalling on Formula One tobacco sponsorship.

He also took flak over his children's education (when he and his wife Cherie, a successful lawyer, chose a grant-maintained school), and over the reduced support to lone-parents.

The prime minister has shown a frank and relaxed style with Cabinet colleagues: "Call me Tony", with the public and on television, though he seems wounded under hostile questioning.

His humour and charm ensured him a long honeymoon, and he presents himself as a "straight guy". But he has attracted criticism for failing to expound a clear personal political philosophy.

He started a long process of constitutional reform and devolution, with many other reviews and rethinks in the pipeline.

Scotland and Wales now have their own democratic forums; the House of Lords has been partially reformed, by means of a compromise, though the second stage of the process had stalled by early 2002.

He has been criticised for the appointment of "cronies" to the peerage and to public bodies. His government has legislated for freedom of information (of a sort).

He is said to have little interest in the House of Commons, and is an infrequent attender, except once a week for prime ministerís questions. He has taken part in only nine per cent of divisions since becoming Prime Minister, though he turned out to vote for a ban on foxhunting in March 2002.

He has been criticised for a too "presidential" style, for excessive use of focus groups, political advisers and spin-doctors, for "control freak" tendencies, and for by-passing Parliament with major announcements.

His government suffered its first parliamentary defeat at the hands of its own backbenchers a month after the 2001 general election, when nearly 120 Labour MPs rebelled against an attempt to remove two independent-minded select committee chairmen.

He responded to some of these criticisms in April 2002 when he agreed to appear in public before the House of Commons Liaison Committee (made up of all 32 Select Committee chairmen) on a regular six monthly basis, to answer in-depth questioning about domestic and foreign policy.

He recast his government in a big reshuffle after the 2001 election, replacing his foreign secretary Robin Cook with Jack Straw, making David Blunkett home secretary and redistributing responsibilities around Whitehall with major changes in departments.

He removed his deputy, John Prescott, from his large environment department, which was broken up.

Tony Blair is a devout churchgoer, a member of the Christian Socialist movement, an Anglican with a Roman Catholic wife, and rumoured to have leanings towards Rome.

In May 2000 his popularity received a boost when his wife Cherie gave birth to their fourth child, Leo. He took a little time off for parental leave and photocalls at Number 10; but in March 2002 it was suggested, and not denied, that Leo had been sent to France for separate inoculations for measles, mumps and rubella, instead of having the controversial combined MMR.

He has been described as "a phenomenon", rather than a mere politician. His achievements to date have certainly been phenomenal, and he has caught a tide in the affairs of the nation which so far shows little sign of ebbing.

There was some polling evidence in April 2002 suggesting ambivalence among voters about his governmentís record, especially over public services, and general trustworthiness.

But as he frequently says: "There's a lot more to do."


 Last updated: 04/02/2005 12:26:00

Subscriber login




        saved searches
Quick search
Person Name e.g. Cameron
Biography e.g. Smoking
Organisation e.g. DCLG
Favourite Links

Select Committees
Govt Departments