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Phuket: Tony Blair's rapid rise to the top

PHUKET: It’s 1999, evening time in a bar in a small village in County Durham. The phone rings, a barmaid answers and shouts “Where’s Tony? It’s a bloke named Clinton.”

By David Brook

Thursday 6 December 2012, 09:52AM

David Brook (second from left) with Neil Kinnock (third from left) and Tony Blair (far right).

David Brook (second from left) with Neil Kinnock (third from left) and Tony Blair (far right).

Customers were taken aback. The call was indeed from 42nd US President Bill Clinton wanting to speak with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. The bar was in Trimdon Labour Club, a long way from the White House, Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament.

But Trimdon Labour Club has a remarkable place in history.

It was here that Blair announced his decision in 1994 to stand for party leader, and in 2007 his resignation as Labour Party Leader and Prime Minister. Truly it was the birthplace of Tony Blair’s “New Labour”, and perhaps its last resting place.

Although born in Edinburgh, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair spent most of his childhood in County Durham. He attended Durham’s Chorister School (as did Rowan Atkinson, the famed Mr Bean), then went on to Fettes College, Edinburgh where politics was a long way from his mind.

He was arrested – being mistaken for a burglar as he climbed into his dormitory – played guitar, sang in a rock band called Ugly Rumours, and spent a year in London attempting to find fame as a rock music promoter, before reading jurisprudence at Oxford.

Graduating in 1975, he joined the Labour Party and in 1982 fought but lost the Beaconsfield byelection. But his profile was in the ascendancy and his roller coaster ride in politics had begun.

In 1983, with the crucial support of influential councillor John Burton, Blair was selected for the newly-created constituency of Sedgefield, near where he had grown up in Durham.
Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix supported his campaign and Blair was elected as MP for Sedgefield. The rise to power had begun.

Splash Beach Club

Elected leader of the Labour Party in 1994, he led “New Labour” to a landslide victory in the 1997 general election and aged just 43 became the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812.

Blair was the Labour Party’s longest-serving prime minister, and led the party to three consecutive general election victories(1997, 2001 and 2005). But his popularity was on the wane.

As his handling of the Iraq War led to accusations of misleading Parliament, internal rifts with colleagues increased and his popularity dropped dramatically. Pressure built for his resignation which came in June 2007.

The rise and fall of Blair in UK politics was complete, although he has comfortably survived. Speculation places his personal wealth at £60 million, mostly earned since his tenure as Prime Minister.

History will judge his legacy, as biographer John Rentoul once commented: “All the teachers I spoke to when researching the book said he was a complete pain in the backside and they were very glad to see the back of him.”

Seems the Labour Party and electorate came to the same conclusion, but I wonder what Mr Bean would make of it all.



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