Tony Blair: Address to Seton Hall University

Article excerpt

February 3, 2009

It is a real honor to be here at the John C. Whitehead School. Thank you so much for that kind introduction. What I'm going to do is give you my world view in about twenty minutes. You can guess its depth and profundity from that. For me it is very inspiring, but also very thought provoking to reflect on the United States at this moment with a new president in charge. I know something of the feeling of coming to power, as I did in 1997 after eighteen years of opposing a conservative government. It was a moment of enormous euphoria. I will always remember being in that position.

There are a lot of differences between your US politics and ours. One difference is that our election campaign is about four weeks long. You do a slightly greater length, in order to get a better sense of the whole situation. The other difference is we have no transition period. You win the election; you're in office the next day. So, when I won the election the May 1, 1997, I literally was into Downing Street on May 2, having seen the Queen and having been asked to form the government. I remember, I went into Downing Street and the previous party had obviously been there for eighteen years, so everyone was really used to them. Now, when the new prime minister walks into Downing Street, he goes down the long corridor to the end where the Cabinet room is. The tradition is that all the people who work in Downing Street - and they are mostly professional civil servants, they stay there whatever the administration - line the two sides of the corridor to clap in the new Prime Minister. The other lot had been there for eighteen years and everyone had become used to them. So, as I went down the corridor shaking hands with people; they were practically crying. By the time I got to the end of the corridor, I felt guilty about the whole thing. I remember, I went into the cabinet room and I was exhausted because I had not slept; we had been campaigning for the last few weeks and so on. The Cabinet secretary - who again is a professional civil servant and is the senior guy - was just sitting in the cabinet room. I went in the room. It was my first time in the British Cabinet Room; all this history surrounding me. He was a very nice, decent British guy from the old school. There he was sitting in the Cabinet. I sat down with him, feeling a little bit nervous, and he said to me, "Well done. You've won the election. Now what?"

I always remember that moment as thinking, 'Yeah. Hmm. Now what?" So, I know a little of what it must be like for the new president coming in. There is this huge expectation, huge hope, and huge possibility. Of course, all of these things are real and are positive and can give an enormous sense of what is possible in a very challenging world. However, my argument to you this evening is really this: that in order for President Obama to succeed as you want him to and as we want him to, he must have some partners as well as spectators, and some supporters as well as cheerleaders. In other words, he's going to find some very tough challenges out there. The expectations may change with the election of a new president, but the problems don't. They remain the same, and they're hard to deal with.

My case to you tonight is really very simple. We live in a completely new and different world today. This is not just a new century and a new millennium. There is a completely different complexion to the way that politics works today. If we want not just this administration to succeed, or this president to succeed, but also those of us who want to be supporters and partners in that to help, then we have to understand the nature of that different and changing world and what that means for policy. I want to view that through three major challenges - the economy, the environment, and security.

On the economy, I would say this is the toughest intellectual and political challenge that I can remember. Normally what happens in government, just to let you in on a little secret, is you get a real crisis, and you call in the experts. …