Saturday, 30 June 2007

Changing of the guard

MOST of us who have been to London will have seen, or at least, heard of it.

The changing of the Queen’s guard at Bucking-ham Palace is probably one of the most British of institutions, and a spectacle that people think of first whenever they hear the word “London.”

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Last week, however, a much more significant changing of the guard took place, not too far from Buckingham. By the banks of the River Thames, and under the shadow of the venerable Big Ben, an era in British politics finally came to pass.

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for the last decade, had — true to his word —finally stepped down as leader of the Labor Party, and in so doing gave up the post of head of the government of the United Kingdom to his successor, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

Spanning the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George Bush, Tony Blair’s long tenure in office —mostly coinciding at a time of relative prosperity in the United Kingdom —is eclipsed only by the reign of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, who led the Tory government of the 80s and early 90s for 13 long years, just four short of former President Marcos’ 17-year grip on Philippine politics.

The Blair years will hopefully be remembered as one of Britain’s finest moments. The UK economy is one of the strongest in the European Union today, a testament to the former prime minister’s faith in the power of the free market, as opposed to his Labor predecessor’s disdain for the ideals of laissez faire economics.

He has also succeeded in finally solving the sectarian strife that haunted Northern Ireland for as long as anyone in British politics today can remember.

Had it not been for one single decision which many in the UK think was the wrong thing to do – Tony Blair would certainly have secured a prominent place for himself in British politics as soon as he stepped out of 10 Downing Street. As it is, he will have to wait until history has passed its judgment on his legacy.

Iraq. Yes, that’s the word that will forever taint his image, the remaining question being only one of degree, i.e. will it be all that people will remember of him? Or will they at least have memories of the good things that he has done?

Tony Blair was a firm supporter of the war in Iraq, staunchly convinced that the effort was definitely a positive step in the fight against global terrorism. His close relationship with America’s leadership made sure that his conviction would not be in opposition to that of his trans-Atlantic allies. Unfortunately, the Iraq campaign has degenerated into a bloody quagmire that no one seems to be able to solve. Unfortunately for Blair too, this meant that his name would forever be associated with this monumental failure of foreign policy.

And yet there is one major difference between a leader like Blair, and many of ours who have governed our country less auspiciously. The man sincerely believed he was doing the right thing, and was guided by what he thought were the real interests of the British people. That his judgment turned out to be wrong in the end is another story.

This is something I cannot remember any leader of the Philippines ever possessed — a genuine passion for doing the right things, without regard for any personal gain or advancement. For most of our leaders, any decision always has to be preceded by the question — “What’s in it for me?”

Blair may yet become a man tainted by the judgment of history, but our politicians could do well to learn from his example.

Published by the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 30, 2007 (

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