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Prime Minister Blair Gives Farewell Speech to Labour Party

September 26, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT
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SIMON MARKS, NewsHour Special Correspondent: Across London this fall, the talk of the town is of the fall of Tony Blair.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: Get up with Nick Ferrari at breakfast.

SIMON MARKS: Every morning, radio host Nick Ferrari wakes Londoners up on the capital’s news station, LBC.

NICK FERRARI, London Radio Host: Hello, there. Sorry to keep you waiting, Tony. What did you want to say about Tony Blair?

SIMON MARKS: And they call into his program in large numbers, looking forward to a day when Tony Blair’s government is a thing of the past.

NICK FERRARI: Frank’s in Chalfont, go ahead, Frank.

RADIO CALLER: We’ve lost our country, generally. That man’s not for us; he’s not for us at all.

NICK FERRARI: Carol’s in Basildon. Assess the prime minister for me, Carol.

RADIO CALLER: You know, I can’t bear the man. I absolutely think he will be remembered for bringing terror to the shores of England.

NICK FERRARI: Peter’s in Bermondsey. Go ahead, Peter.

RADIO CALLER: Personally speaking, he has been the pits.

NICK FERRARI: It seems a litany of negatives here.

United Kingdom ready for a change

Rodney Barker
London School of Economics
There was a reversal in the public esteem of Tony Blair, so that somebody who in 1997 was seen as a young, white knight on a white charger is now seen as flashy, insincere, deceptive and a danger to the country.

SIMON MARKS: A litany of negatives that has not always been heard on the airwaves here. Tony Blair has, at times, been the most popular prime minister in British political history. Unfettered by term limits, next May he will celebrate a decade in power, if he's still in power to mark the occasion.

RODNEY BARKER, Professor, London School of Economics: When Tony Blair began his premiership, he was seen as young, charismatic, straightforward, honest and inclusive.

SIMON MARKS: Rodney Barker is a professor of political science at the London School of Economics.

RODNEY BARKER: There was a reversal in the public esteem of Tony Blair, so that somebody who in 1997 was seen as a young, white knight on a white charger is now seen as flashy, insincere, deceptive and a danger to the country.

SIMON MARKS: And for him that is now irreversible?

RODNEY BARKER: I think it's irreversible. It's almost unheard of for somebody who, as it were, sank to the very bottom of the pile in public esteem having been at the top to reverse that again.

SIMON MARKS: It is his support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and his alliance with President Bush that has consigned Tony Blair to the bottom of that pile. This past weekend, thousands of protestors descended on the northern English city of Manchester to make their anti-war voices heard, just as delegates from Tony Blair's Labour Party arrived in the city for their annual conference, an event similar to a U.S. political convention.

Bearing signs that described President Bush as the "world's number-one terrorist," they accuse Tony Blair of an unquestioning allegiance to the White House, to the detriment, they say, of Britain's interests in the world.

REBECCA KING, Anti-Blair Protestor: It just shows you how much people really don't want this man in power, and they don't want these things that are happening, which just shows you that the government really aren't listening to the people these days.

SIMON MARKS: Many protestors on the march were veterans of Britain's peace movement, but it also brought young voters onto the streets and many swing voters from the British middle class.

Opposition to Tony Blair's support of President Bush is no longer restricted to activists on the political fringes. You can find it virtually everywhere in Britain. At an amateur soccer game on the outskirts of Manchester that we stumbled across on Saturday, there was strong anti-Blair, anti-Bush feeling.

Is it principally Iraq that bothers people or are there other things about him they don't like?

JOEL BADGER, Manchester Resident: I think it's more about Iraq and Afghanistan, the way they jumped into it and killed a lot of innocent people, with a lot of promises of weapons of mass destruction and, you know, all of these terrible things. And nothing has been found, really, apart from a few things. They lied.

Labour's slipping hold on power

Glenda Jackson
Member of Parliament
It has always been my belief that, if you are genuinely a close ally, you tell your friend when you think they're going down the wrong road.

SIMON MARKS: That viewpoint expressed in a part of Britain long-considered a stronghold for the traditionally left-leaning Labour Party has strengthened the hands of rebels within it, and they include the former actress -- now parliamentarian -- Glenda Jackson.

GLENDA JACKSON, Member of Parliament, Labour Party: It has always been my belief that, if you are genuinely a close ally, you tell your friend when you think they're going down the wrong road. And you should not be prepared to follow your friend down every dark ally simply because they're your friend.

I mean, that doesn't constitute friendship to me; that's a kind of abdication of responsibility in that relationship. So that's where I part company with Blair.

SIMON MARKS: Glenda Jackson represents the leafy London suburb of Hampstead in the British parliament. Once a 17th-century village on the outskirts of the capital, more recently it's been home to a prominent array of writers, artists and left-leaning philosophers and thinkers.

Earlier this year, in local elections, the Labour Party lost control of the local council for the first time in 35 years, one of several wakeup calls suggesting that Labour's grip on national power was slipping.

GLENDA JACKSON: Certainly since the Iraq war, in my constituency, people have been saying to me, "I'm a lifelong Labour voter. My family have been lifelong Labour voters. I will never, ever vote Labour again while Tony Blair is leader."

SIMON MARKS: It is an ignominious political end for a man credited with transforming Britain.

RODNEY BARKER: Despite the low esteem in which Tony Blair is now held, he is without doubt the most successful leader the Labour Party has ever had: three general elections in a row; a third successful term in office; a major program of constitutional reform; not a solution, but the best solution we've come up with yet for civil war in Northern Ireland. It is a substantial record.

SIMON MARKS: But it is not a record that many in Britain seem willing to celebrate. Despite the fact that London today, even in its very skyline, is emblematic of an era known as cool Britannia, ushered in by Tony Blair, an era of rising living standards, lower unemployment, better public services, and revived national pride, despite all that, the man who helped bring it about is virtually persona non grata on the national stage.

On stage at the Labour Party conference in Manchester today, the prime minister acknowledged the harsh reality that he faces. He's told the country that he'll be gone from office within a year, and he told his party today that he hopes Labour's next leader will emphasize continuity.

TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister of Britain: You've given me all I've ever achieved and all that we've achieved together for the country. Next year, I won't be making this speech, but in the years to come, wherever I am, whatever I do, I'm with you, wishing you well and wanting you to win. You're the future now, so make the most of it.

Next leader in line

Gordon Brown
Chancellor of the Exchequer
We will take any necessary steps and find any necessary resources to ensure, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else, there is no safe haven for terrorists and there is no hiding place for terrorist finance.

TheSIMON MARKS: The man most likely to succeed Tony Blair is Gordon Brown, for nine years Mr. Blair's chancellor of the exchequer, a post broadly equivalent to that of U.S. treasury secretary. He's now energetically trying to introduce himself to the British public.

Lacking Tony Blair's charisma, he's better known as a policy wonk, diligently fighting economic inequality. And he's been dogged by rumors of confrontational, combative meetings with Prime Minister Blair that stem from his claim that Mr. Blair privately promised to move on long ago.

In his speech in Manchester yesterday, Mr. Brown publicly praised the prime minister and promised to continue his work in at least one principal area.

GORDON BROWN, Chancellor of the Exchequer: We will take any necessary steps and find any necessary resources to ensure, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else, there is no safe haven for terrorists and there is no hiding place for terrorist finance.

SIMON MARKS: But he'll only be able to do that if he becomes the next Labour Party leader, and the Manchester conference is awash with rumors that Blair loyalists are considering a challenge to Mr. Brown's bid to take the helm of the party.

If Gordon Brown wins the leadership of the Labour Party, he will then have two and a half years to govern the country before he has to call a general election and seek a mandate of his own from the British people. But he may not wait that long.

In the British system, the prime minister gets to choose the date of the general election, so the other political parties here are already preparing for that battle and staking out their positions on the future of Britain's relationship with the USA.

The end of an era

John Kampfner
Editor, New Statesman
They do not understand where the national interest for the UK lay in Blair's unbelievably uncritical approach towards George Bush.

DAVID CAMERON, Leader of Conservative Party: Today is the ninth anniversary of Tony Blair coming to power, and I want to talk to you straight...

SIMON MARKS: David Cameron is the new face of Britain's Conservative Party. Once led by Margaret Thatcher, it's in opposition and has been in disarray. But under Mr. Cameron's leadership it is, for the first time, ahead of Tony Blair's Labour in the polls here. And Mr. Cameron is telling voters that he wants a relationship with Washington that isn't "slavish" and prioritizes British interests, not American ones.

That is what many in Mr. Blair's own party are also saying. Members of Gordon Brown's inner circle acknowledge their man is under enormous pressure to distance Britain from the incumbent in the White House. John Kampfner edits the New Statesman, a weekly magazine supportive of Mr. Brown.

JOHN KAMPFNER, Editor, New Statesman: Almost everybody in Westminster, in Whitehall, in the think-tanks, almost everybody, apart from a few messianic Blairites, believe that our prime minister went way overboard in his affection for a particular American president, and for one who is -- how can I put it -- controversial, to say the least. They do not understand where the national interest for the UK lay in Blair's unbelievably uncritical approach towards George Bush.

SIMON MARKS: And the pressure for a policy change will continue to come from Labour Party lawmakers like Glenda Jackson.

GLENDA JACKSON: I don't care who is the leader of the Labour Party; that historic and actual and practical linkage that we as a nation have with the United States of America will remain. I think there will be differences in approach, and I would hope that he would make those differences clear.

SIMON MARKS: So if George Bush at some point finds himself in a position where he picks up the telephone and calls Prime Minister Gordon Brown and says, "Gordon, I think we need to go to war against Iran," Prime Minister Brown says...

GLENDA JACKSON: I should hope he would be sent off with an immaculately polite flea in his ear.

SIMON MARKS: Britain, then, is in for some exciting weeks and months as it prepares to move on from the Tony Blair era. Whoever gets to paint the next canvas in Britain's governmental history will also determine the tone of the next chapter in the country's special relationship with the USA.