It's been a hectic first year for the politician who ended 18
years of Conservative Party# rule in Britain. In the world beyond
the island nation, Prime Minister Tony Blair is winning a
reputation as a high-profile international crisis-buster.
In strife-ridden Northern Ireland, he helped bring the
warring parties together and brokered a historic peace settlement.
After talks with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and PLO Chairman
Yasser Arafat last week, Mr. Blair appears to have prepared the way
for a new spurt in the Middle East peace process.
Most commentators appear surprised at the diplomatic skills
Blair is exhibiting. Political analyst Philip Stephens says Blair
"has shown grit as well as youthful style" in his approach to both
According to Mr. Stephens, the prime minister is "the object
of admiring fascination abroad." But he points out that Blair's
ability to maneuver rests heavily on "a seemingly impregnable
approval rating at home." Blair is backed by a 179-seat majority
for his Labour Party in Parliament. And he has also taken full
advantage of Britain's chairmanship of the 15-nation council of
European Union (EU) ministers, making use of the extra clout this
gives him, as on his recent Middle East trip.
Significantly, #however, in his venture into Middle East
diplomacy on behalf of the EU, Blair has been careful to avoid
suggesting that Europe wishes to upstage the United States in
pursuit of a settlement.
Says a Blair aide, "Britain realizes that Washington has to
play the major role. But the prime minister has been able to create
the prospect of a meeting next month between Netanyahu and Arafat,
and the Americans are happy with that."
Blair's performance during his recent visit to Israel merited
him praise in the influential #London Economist. The magazine
contrasted his restrained diplomacy with earlier interventions in
the Middle East by former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and
John Major, who both "harbored delusions" that Britain could "punch
above its weight" in foreign affairs.
In British politics, the biggest impact Blair has had in his
first year is rooted in an evident determination to persuade his
country that it must change its political values and its idea of
itself in the world.
In this, he has tried to employ the same "feel" for what
people are thinking that he exhibited last September, when within
hours of the Aug. 31 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Blair
captured the public mood by describing her as "the people's
From that point on, it was clear that the Labour Party leader
was much closer to the hearts and minds of Britain than his
Conservative Party counterpart, William Hague, whose bland response
to Diana's death was widely criticized.
Although Blair's drive to promote the image of a modern "Cool
Britannia" around the world has also come in for its share of
criticism, behind the effort lies a conviction that in the postwar
years Britain lost its way. As the youngest British prime minister
this century, Blair has been able to devote a huge amount of energy
and considerable charm to a series of initiatives.
Blair has made it plain that the welfare state must be
modified to encourage people to work rather than rely on state
handouts. In the future, recipients of welfare must accept work if
it is offered to them.
Unemployed youths# are to be given special training by
employers who would receive government subsidies for agreeing to
give them jobs. Blair has also demanded higher standards of
education across the board from preschool classes to universities. …