In This Review

Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader
Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader
By Philip Stephens
Viking, 2004, 288 pp.

Stephens, a journalist and editor at the Financial Times, has covered the political career of British Prime Minister Tony Blair with a fine mix of shrewdness and admiration. This biography will not tell informed readers much that is new, but what is new is nonetheless significant. Stephens focuses, for instance, on the similarity in ideology and political techniques of Blair's New Labour and Bill Clinton's New Democrats: just as Clinton often infuriated "New Dealers," Blair sparked a "bonfire of Old Labour policies" with his "public-private partnership." Also worth noting is Stephens' insistence on Blair's complexity: a deep Christian conscience, a brilliant politician, a good family man, averse to confrontation yet capable of single-mindedness, a great "mimic and actor who could turn in an award-winning performance at scarcely a moment's notice."

The most interesting part of the book, however, is devoted to Blair's foreign policy. Stephens sees him as a pragmatic Europeanist, eager to be the hinge between the United States and the continent. He thus partnered with French President Jacques Chirac to promote a European security force but was driven by his transatlantic fervor to support Washington in Iraq, heeding Clinton's advice to make himself President George W. Bush's best friend -- to "be the guy he turns to." Of course, Blair's influence over the Bush administration turned out to be very limited, but Stephens points out that Blair also believed that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was "the right thing to do." The war, Stephens asserts, "has united Tony Blair in all his different characters." The courage and eloquence that Stephens recognizes in Blair are undeniable; his limitless self-confidence, however, has led to imprudence and embarrassment.