Britain's Tony Blair Campaigns For Labour Party

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown got a big vote of support from former Prime Minister Tony Blair Tuesday. Blair urged voters to give his party a fourth term in office. The governing Labour Party is in a tight race with the opposition Conservatives — just weeks ahead of national elections.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown got a big vote of support yesterday from his old friend and one-time rival Tony Blair. Their party, the Labour Party, is still neck-and-neck with the opposition Conservatives just weeks ahead of national elections. From London, Vicki Barker reports that the decision to enlist Blair's help can't have been easy for Brown.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. TONY BLAIR (Former Prime Minister, Great Britain): Thank you. Thanks so much.

VICKI BARKER: It was a handpicked audience in the heart of his former power base, and Tony Blair's message was just as carefully chosen, confined to the global and local recession.

Mr. BLAIR: We're not out of the woods yet, but we are on the path out. And this did not happen by chance. It happened by choice. It required leadership, and Gordon Brown supplied it.

(Soundbite of applause)

BARKER: Blair was barely out of the hall when Labour's opponents were declaring his appearance a poisoned chalice for Brown. Danny Alexander speaks for Britain's third party, the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. DANNY ALEXANDER (Liberal Democrats): From the illegal decision to go to war in Iraq to the failure to clean up politics to the calamitous economic mistakes that the government's made over the last few years, Tony Blair's appearance on the campaign trail today is simply going to remind voters that Labour has completely failed to meet the expectations it set when it was elected to government in the first place.

BARKER: Tony Blair is just as polarizing among traditional Labour supporters, but it was Blair and his vision for new Labour who persuaded so many middle-class Britons to vote for Labour three times running, and who are wavering in great numbers now as Labour bids for a fourth term. Anne McElvoy of the Evening Standard.

Ms. ANNE MCELVOY (The Evening Standard): Blair has that outreach to middle England, which somehow Mr. Brown seems to find uncomfortable.

BARKER: A brilliant but plotting technocrat seeking to succeed his party's most popular candidate in a generation. A long-serving, long-suffering number two determined to stand or fall without the help of his more charismatic predecessor.

Historian Anthony Howard hears echoes with then-Vice President Al Gore 10 years ago.

Mr. ANTHONY HOWARD (Historian): If he brought Bill Clinton in - and Bill Clinton's a marvelous campaigner - then poor old, wooden Al Gore would have suddenly been the sort of, made to look worse than he is. I think there may be an element to that.

BARKER: Of course, Gore didn't reach the top job. Gordon Brown did - but not via the voting booth, but in a midterm hand over of power within the Labour Party. This election will be the first time Brown himself will face the British people. The polls are punishingly close. Gordon Brown needs Tony Blair. But what did it cost him to admit that?

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: This is NPR News.

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