International Papers

All Tony, All the Time

The British press reflects on Prime Minister Tony Blair’s busy week.

A busy fellow
A busy fellow

The British papers have been abuzz with everything Tony in recent days. At the Labor Party’s annual gathering in Brighton, Prime Minister Tony Blair came closer than ever to issuing an apology for the bad intelligence that led to the Iraq war. Then he announced that he plans to retain the party leadership. Then, just as the announcement came that Blair would undergo a medical procedure—not an operation—to resolve a year-old heart flutter, reports surfaced that the premier and his wife, Cherie, had paid more than $6 million for a “family home” in an exclusive section of Central London.

Whew. What a week it was for Blair. And the lively British press was right there to comment on every one of these mega-events. Blair told the Labor gathering, and all of Britain, that he would not “go on and on and on,” but that he did intend to retain the leadership of the party through one more election, so he can complete his agenda. Blair said he planned to step down near the end of his third term, in order to help his successor—who he studiously avoided trying to anoint—gain exposure in advance of his own run at the polls.

Assuming all goes according to Blair’s plan, he will have occupied 10 Downing St. for longer than the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and perhaps longer than any other British premier.

The press was abuzz about the implications for Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who has long had the inside track to replace the premier at the helm of Labor. In a leader, the Guardian called Blair’s announcement “a massive moment in this government’s history” and said, “The repercussions—whatever they are—will dominate the politics of the current decade and beyond.”

A commentator in the Sunday Times of London wrote that Blair followed in a long British tradition in which premiers pull the rug out from under their top lieutenants, but said that Blair may have topped all of his predecessors in the cruel, calculated way he “dissed” Brown. Another writer in the Sunday Times said that Blair had left Brown with no choice but to resign or wage all-out war on the prime minister. “Every government has its wrecker, generally a young male minister who is intensely ambitious and puts his personal interests ahead of his party’s, blowing apart the fragile compromises that are needed to make any party work,” he wrote. “The egotistical vandal in this Labor government occupies 10 Downing Street.”

Given the simultaneous nature of so many major announcements, Blair’s heart flutter could have gotten lost in the shuffle. The press checked in with medical experts, all of whom said the condition, and the procedure, are not serious, and the Sunday Mirror revealed that Blair told friends that he was “scared stiff” before the successful procedure. Reuters provided a handy list of other world leaders who have had heart trouble.

Revelations about the Blairs’ real estate purchase raised more than a few eyebrows in London. The couple has purchased a posh, four-story, five-bedroom home in the Connaught Square neighborhood near Marble Arch for £3.6 million. Given that the British real estate market has skyrocketed since the Blairs sold their previous home in 1997, some attributed the timing of the purchase to a desire to partake in the bonanza.

The Independent noted that Cherie Blair is embarking on a U.S. speaking tour, starting with a lecture to the wives of high-powered insurance executives at a West Virginia gathering this week. At a reported £30,000 per gig, the paper said, she could quickly put a dent in the couple’s estimated £3 million mortgage.

In the scheme of things, the political earthquake that Blair unleashed is more significant than either his home purchase or his relatively minor heart condition. A columnist in the Daily Telegraph of London wrapped up the week with a bit of advice that Brown might want to consider before he gives up the reins as chief honcho in British economic policy: “If I were Gordon Brown, I would take my revenge on Blair by hiking up interest rates and screwing him on his mortgage.”