Prime minister celebrates decade at top

TONY Blair inherited the leadership of the Labour Party in tragic circumstances.He took the crown after the sudden death of the much-respected Labour leader John Smith, and straight away set about creating "New Labour" aimed firmly at ending 18 years of Tory government in Britain.

TONY Blair inherited the leadership of the Labour Party in tragic circumstances.

He took the crown after the sudden death of the much-respected Labour leader John Smith, and straight away set about creating "New Labour" aimed firmly at ending 18 years of Tory government in Britain.

His confirmation as leader on July 21, 1994 was no surprise - it was clear he would win the election as soon as shadow chancellor Gordon Brown announced he would not throw his hat into the ring.

But at the end of 10 years how has he done? Is the Labour Party now the "natural party of government in Britain," or is it a pale shadow of its former self, trying hard to out-do the Tories.


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Former Ipswich Labour agent John Mowles had no doubt that Tony Blair was the man to lead the party as soon as John Smith died.

"I remember the death of John vividly. I was in my office in Ipswich when Andrew Smith (now secretary of state for work and pensions) took the call from London," he recalled.

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Mr Smith had been due in Ipswich for a party rally on the day of his death.

"I knew Tony Blair was the man to take the party forward - and to attract new voters to us. Remember in 1994 we were only two years on from the shattering defeat of 1992 and many people wondered if Labour could win again," Mr Mowles said.

"Tony changed all that. I think we would have won in 1997 whatever - but it would not have been as big a win."

Since then Mr Mowles has found himself at odds with some elements of Labour Party policy - but he remains keen to see the prime minister re-elected next year.

"No one agrees with 100 per cent of what is happening 100 per cent of the time, but I still think he is the best person to be prime minister and he will carry on as prime minister," Mr Mowles said.

That's a view not shared by George King.

Mr King was Labour councillor for Whitehouse for 20 years until he left the party in 2000.

Last year he was re-elected to Ipswich council for his old ward - as a Liberal Democrat.

"He's not a Socialist," Mr King said. "Blair is more blue than the Tories are. He and his party are just arrogant and think they should run everything for their own benefit.

"That's all I want to say, I'm glad to have left them behind and find a party that wants to help people," he said.

Ipswich council deputy leader David Ellesmere was voted on to the borough the year after Mr Blair became leader - and is seen as a New Labour standard-bearer at Civic Centre.

"Tony Blair is the only Labour leader to win two full terms at the ballot box - and the 1997 election victory was so overwhelming that the Tories still haven't really started to recover.

"I'm sure he will continue as prime minister, and it is good that he has taken the party into areas where we haven't traditionally been that strong.

"On things like community safety, which is the most important issue for many people, we are now tackling problems head-on and that will be good for everyone," he said.

Conservative councillor and parliamentary hopeful Paul West remembers feeling very apprehensive when Tony Blair was elected.

"We recognised that Labour had chosen a very dynamic, attractive figure as leader - and that it wouldn't be easy fighting them," he said.

"In 1997 that was certainly right - and the honeymoon continued for the next three years or so.

"But now it's over and we certainly aren't afraid of fighting them in the next general election."

nWhat do you think of Tony Blair's ten years as Labour leader? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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