[OUTLOOK]Learn from Britain’s Blair

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[OUTLOOK]Learn from Britain’s Blair

If life is uncertain, it is definitely the same on the political scene. News of prime ministers and presidents leaving and new ones taking office reaches us from around the world.
In a sector with an unequaled amount of change, it is not now but in the future when people will determine the historical position of political leaders who tried to make their mark.
But the reason we review a leader’s achievements and contributions immediately after they leave office is to provide contemporary politicians a decent opportunity to reflect on their positions and attitudes.
Take a look at British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recently announced that he would retire from the political stage soon, after 10 years in office, as a good example.
First of all, Mr. Blair succeeded in bringing eye-opening growth to the British economy for the past decade. The nation repeatedly posted a 3-percent growth rate, a rarity in developed economies, and created enough jobs to almost meet the conditions for full employment.
Foreigners visiting the country can easily discover that the buildings and roads in major cities like London have been notably cleaned up.
The fact that more companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange than the New York Stock Exchange is clear evidence of Britain’s strong position as an international financial power.
The selection of London as the host city for the 2010 Summer Olympic Games is another reflection of the country’s booming economy.
Second, we must remember that Britain’s economic growth occurred under a democratic socialist Labor Party headed by Mr. Blair.
There are occasions when Koreans mistake Mr. Blair for the leader of the Conservative Party, but it is because people fail to notice that he shed the framework of old and conventional socialism and succeeded in transforming the Labor Party into one more fit for the information society.
He maintained a constant position of realizing the goal of social justice by developing new methods and tools that fulfilled contemporary requirements. Mr. Blair believed that pursuing a new society and economic policies that placed an emphasis on enabling humans to freely exhibit their creativity, rather than relying on government regulations such as taxes, was the path that democratic socialism should take.
Finally, the Prime Minister emphasized that the age of standoff between the left and right had passed and that the decision of whether to open or close a nation’s gates is one that all countries must make. He has worked to make the United Kingdom the forerunner in the move toward making an open society.
Mr. Blair strongly believed that countries that refuse to open their gates by insisting on protectionism, isolationism and nationalism are destined to fail to develop as they will falsely believe that it will be possible to evade the inevitable decision of whether to open their markets or not.
Thus, Mr. Blair’s position possessed a strong persuasive power, but it is also true that it brought negative effects regarding the situation in Iraq and the Middle East in general.
Despite the numerous achievements throughout his decade-long term, the main reason for the recent collapse of public support for Mr. Blair can be blamed on the difficult situation in Iraq and relations with the United States.
His special relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush and the negative responses to it played an especially large part in his sudden fallout with the British public.
As a country that controlled the Middle East during the imperialist era, it is difficult to understand why it would step foot in such an uncertain hazard as the war in Iraq.
But as the situational tension of having to reconfirm its strong relation with the United States after the 9/11 terrorist acts and a sense of duty of protecting open society from attacks by closed ones added up, Mr. Blair made a choice he felt was best at the time.
His planning and efforts for maintaining safety and peace in Europe through a special alliance with the United States while forgoing the glory and pride of the British Empire should be evaluated with more caution.
In any case, every flood has its ebb. Mr. Blair showed us that even the most successful politician must leave office after a certain period. Of course, learning from his time in office is the responsibility of individual politicians.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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