Tony Blair : Prime Minister , by John Rentoul -- biography -- book review

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Tony Blair : Prime Minister by John Rentoul
Paperback - 640 pages
January 2002
Published by Little Brown UK
ISBN 0751530824

With the advent of what may become the second Gulf War, Tony Blair : Prime Minister is one of the few comprehensive biographies of the leader of America's closest ally. Prime Minister Tony Blair is an unlikely choice to be the foreign leader closest to President George W. Bush. British Journalist, John Rentoul has written about the rise and times of Tony Blair from his roots in a middle class British family to that of rising socialist politician who became leader of "new" Labour and Prime Minister of Great Britain.



Book review by Paul L. Whalen

Paul L. Whalen is an attorney and professor of Contract Law and ADR at the Defense Acquisition University - Midwest Campus located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
He lives in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.

© 2003 Paul L. Whalen
Reprinted with permission by crimsonbird.com


Rantoul traces Blair's family and their political evolution. Blair's father, Leo Blair was born to a pair of actors and raised by James and Mary Blair in Glasgow. Leo Blair as a teenager was a member of the Scottish Young Communist League and had ambitions to become a Communist Member of Parliament. However, after service in World War II as a member of the Royal Signal Corps, Leo Blair underwent a "political conversion". Upon leaving the military, he became a member of the Conservative Party. Leo Blair married Blair's mother, Hazel from a strongly Protestant family from County Donegal, Ireland while both were working at the Ministry of National Insurance in Glasgow. At the same time Leo Blair studied law at night. Leo Blair eventually became a lecturer in Administrative Law at the University of Adelaide in Australia where the family lived for three years. Leo Blair wanted to become an MP so when an opening to be a lecturer at the University of Durham, the family moved back to Britain and to Durham which is considered Blair's boyhood home. Leo Blair eventually became an active in the Conservative Party, an active barrister in addition to being a law lecturer.

Tony Blair was the second of three children. He is described as being most like his father as he emulated his father's ambitions. In the opening chapter, the book states "Tony Blair's political ambition began at age eleven, when his father Leo's ended, on 4 July 1964. At the age of forty, at the height of his political powers and looking for a Conservative parliamentary seat, Leo Blair had a stroke."

However, the book indicates that Blair's friends and acquaintances from his school and college years were surprised when he decided to become active in politics. Blair was not a member of any political clubs. Blair had been a singer and manager of a "rock n roll" band "The Ugly Rumors". He had long hair, a van and played a guitar. Unlike his American political counterparts, he never experimented with drugs, smoked marijuana or was seen drunk, In response to the question of whether he smoked marijuana, he said no, but he added, "If I had, I would have inhaled" a jab at his friend Bill Clinton.

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One of the surprising revelations found in the book is Tony Blair's Christian Socialism. Unlike many contemporary American politicians, not much is made of the fact that Blair has been a confirmed Christian since his Oxford days. Moreover, he is the only British Prime Minister known to read the Bible on a daily basis. His knowledge of theology is well respected by the clergy of all faith with whom he comes into contact.

Blair and his wife Cherie Booth have a close relationship and similar interests. They met while beginning their respective careers as barristers. They are as "political" as the Clintons. Both have worked their way up the ladder within the Labour Party. Both have run for seats in Parliament. When Blair ran in his first successful campaign for his current seat from the Sedgefield Constituency, Cherie was seeking a seat in Parliament from another constituency or district. However, after Blair won his first election, Cherie decided to forego elective office, as "one politician in the family was enough". Since Blair's election to Parliament in 1983, the Blairs have had four children. Cherie has continued her career as a successful barrister.

Over half of the book covers Blair's career as leader of the Labour Party and four and a half years as Prime Minister. When he became Prime Minister in 1997, at age 42 after only twelve years in Parliament, he was the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool became Prime Minister in 1812.

The book is well documented with footnotes at the end of every chapter. Because of its "scholarlieness," it may tend to drag at times in the chapters, which deal with his years as Prime Minister from 1997 through 2001. It chronicles in great detail Tony Blair's first term. The book characterizes his achievements at the time of the writing as improvement of the British standard of living, the Balkans, and Ireland. It said with his energy much more is expected in his second term.

As a Prime Minister, Blair is described as in formal but a "hands-on" Prime Minister. He is energized and possibly hyper as he works continually even working the phone from planes, boats while on vacation and always on the weekend. With as much detail provided of all of Blair's life, Tony Blair : Prime Minister gives the reader and the world great insight into Blair's actions now in his second term as Prime Minister.

Book review by Paul L. Whalen contributed to crimsonbird.com

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