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British Prime Minister Blair to Step Down After Decade in Office

British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Thursday that he plans to resign next month from the office he has held for the past decade. Foreign policy analysts look at Blair's record and relations with the United States.

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  • TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent:

    From the White House to Congress, Tony Blair won awards and accolades in the U.S. for being the number-one ally in the war on terror.

    TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister of Britain: In the end, it is not our power alone that will defeat this evil. Our ultimate weapon is not our guns, but our beliefs.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    But the applause in Washington turned to catcalls in Britain, where newspapers commonly labeled him "Bush's poodle." Yet, as the Iraq war dragged into its fourth year and British casualties mounted, Blair never wavered in his support of the U.S. and his stance against terrorists.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    The mission that we're engaged in at the moment, which is a struggle between freedom and democracy on the one hand, and terrorism and sectarianism on the other. And it's a noble mission, and it's the right mission, and it's important for our world that it succeeds.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Blair's current low standing in British public opinion polls stands in sharp contrast to the hope and optimism that swept the then-43-year-old Labour leader to the pinnacle of power in 1997. Young and enthusiastic, he was the first British prime minister born after World War II and after the years of rationing and economic privation that followed that war.

    As leader of a new Labour Party, he helped it shed much of its socialist ideology, as well as its habit of losing four straight national elections. With a massive majority in the House of Commons, he pushed through constitutional changes, giving more self-government to Scotland and Wales, and he helped negotiate the 1998 Good Friday Accords that ended three decades of civil war in Northern Ireland.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    Today I hope that the burden of history can at long last start to be lifted from our shoulders.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    While raising spending for health care and education, New Labour maintained many of the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher's conservatives. Britain's economic and job growth have far outpaced most of its stagnant continental European neighbors.

    The prime minister also showed he was able to match his emotions to the moment; that was especially apparent after the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    She was the people's princess, and that's how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and in our memories forever.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Abroad, the prime minister showed his readiness to use force if necessary to rid the world of tyrants.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    We either act or we don't, and the person responsible for every single piece of misery and pain inflicted in this conflict is Milosevic.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    In a 1999 interview with Jim Lehrer, he pushed back against President Bill Clinton's resistance to send ground troops into the Kosovo war.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    We always anticipated using ground forces in order to go in and police a settlement. But what again we've said for a significant period of time is that we plan and have all options under review.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Those convictions rang with more certainty immediately after 9/11, as he appeared nine days after the attacks alongside President Bush in Washington.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    I believe we have to go on fighting terrorism as long as it takes, because what happened on the 11th of September was, of course, a brutal and horrific attack on America, but it was a demonstration of what these people are capable of in any part of the world.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    But while most of the world, including Britain, supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Blair was a lonelier figure in Europe when it came to backing President Bush on Iraq. Britain ultimately sent 46,000 troops to Iraq in 2003; nearly 150 British soldiers have been killed since then.

    Other major European leaders, notably President Jacques Chirac of France, either refused to join the coalition in the first place or dropped out as the war went on.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    To retreat in the face of this threat would be a catastrophe.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Two years after the invasion of Iraq, terrorists struck London on July 7, 2005. Fifty-two people were killed and hundreds more injured in suicide attacks on the transit system. At the time, Blair was attending the annual G-8 conference in Scotland.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    All of our countries have suffered from the impact of terrorism. Those responsible have no respect for human life.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    After three straight election landslides, Blair's popularity ratings plunged in his final term, as scandals set in and dissent grew within his own party.

  • TONY BLAIR:

    I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor, but sometimes it is the price of leadership, and it is the cost of conviction.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    Blair has served 10 years in office, a record for a modern prime minister, bested only by Margaret Thatcher. His likely successor is one-time Labour Party rival and now chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown.

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