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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Profile: Tony Blair
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

As Tony Blair hits his 10th anniversary as Labour leader he has already notched up a number of records.

Tony Blair
Blair: Ten years on and questions persist
Two historic landslide election victories, the longest-continuously serving Labour premier, the biggest second term majority of any party - and so on.

He certainly came into the job determined, with more than just a nod towards predecessor Lady Thatcher, to set records and transform and "modernise" Britain.

Education, education, education; fairness not favours for the unions; reforming public services and even creating a century dominated by New Labour were all part of his vision.

He wanted to take Britain to the heart of Europe, specifically through membership of the euro, and he wanted to bring the Liberal Democrats and even some Tories into his wider project to change the very face of British party politics.

A decade after that day and it looks increasingly likely he will be remembered above all for one thing - the war on Iraq.

Hand over

His decision to stand shoulder to shoulder with a Republican president in a new world war against international terrorism changed the course of his premiership and the repercussions continue to this day.

And underneath all this, there is the other affair that has dogged him since that July day in 1994 - whether and when he is going to hand over to Gordon Brown.

Tony Blair playing the guitar
Rocking 'n' rolling
Since that fateful dinner at the Granita restaurant in which it is claimed they stitched up the succession, the question of "when" has returned time and again.

It all started in 1982 when Anthony Lynton Blair stood for the seat of Beaconsfield in a by-election.

He had come from a middle class family and his father had wanted to be a Conservative MP but illness ruled that out.

The young Blair was sent to the famous Fettes public school in Scotland before going on to Oxford and the Bar.

It was during his time at University that he demonstrated a rebellious streak and a love of rock and roll - playing guitar in a band "Ugly Rumours" - which he retains to this day.

His interest in politics developed later and he paid his dues by losing the hopeless Beaconsfield contest before being rewarded with the safe Labour seat of Sedgefield the following year.

His wife, Cherie, who he met in their chambers under the guiding hand of, the now Lord, Derry Irvine, was equally ambitious for a political career.

Front runners

But it was the less driven of the two of them who went on to start a glittering career on the Labour frontbench.

He was swiftly marked out as one of the brightest and was given the jobs as employment spokesman - where he ruled out repealing all Margaret Thatcher's union laws - then shadow home secretary.

Cherie and Tony Blair
Blair with his right-hand woman, Cherie
It was at this time, that he began to hone his plans for himself and the Labour party in collaboration with Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson.

When leader John Smith died unexpectedly in 1994 he and Brown were the front runners to succeed him with his friend eventually deciding to stand aside for Blair.

It was a key moment in his career and one that echoes to this day.

New Labour was created - along with a small army of Old Labour dissidents - and, as they say, the rest is history.

Even the architects of the New Labour project could not believe the size of their majority and the new prime minister set to with a will and a reforming zeal.

Spin machine

On the eve of his 44th birthday he became Britain's youngest prime minister in almost 200 years.

His early reforms included independence for the Bank of England - actually Gordon Brown's reform - and moves towards devolution, the minimum wage reform of the Lords and, the one which has caused him headaches ever since, the creation of a fully-fledged spin machine in Downing Street.

Delivery on health and education proved slow, however, and he had to go into the 2001 election on a platform which amounted to pleading for time to complete his mission.

Blair with George W Bush
Facing the foe together
The day after that poll, it was as if it had never happened. Nothing changed and, for the prime minister's critics, still little has changed.

While he points to any number of controversial policies such as foundation hospitals, education reforms and tuition fees as examples of his radicalism his critics claim the big things, on the economy in particular, have been Gordon Brown's.

Tory sleaze

Entry into the euro is probably further away than ever, his health has suffered setbacks and he has seen his once-rock solid popularity slip amid apparent questions of trust.

That was partly as a result of a number of "scandals", most notably Peter Mandelson's two forced resignations which smacked of the old Tory sleaze.

And then there was 11 September and the war on Iraq, which saw him embroiled in the greatest crisis of his leadership, and the subsequent suicide of scientist David Kelly and the Hutton report.

In recent months he has found himself fighting a constant battle against that war fallout while attempting to forge ahead with big a domestic agenda on public services.

And the speculation about his health, his future and Gordon Brown continues unabated.

But, as the leader who took Labour back to power after 18 years in wilderness and won two record-breaking elections it seems that his destiny is in reality in his own hands.

And the question many are asking is whether he could now outdo the woman he admires in so many ways - and last longer than Margaret Thatcher.




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