ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
Tony Blair has a new job today. No sooner had he stepped down as British prime minister to make way for Gordon Brown than he was appointed as representative of the so-called Middle East Quartet. That's the group of nations trying to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Power changed hands quietly, and without a public vote in Britain. Blair had announced last year that he would not serve out his full third term. His resignation gives his successor time to build up to the next general election, likely in two or three years.
NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.
ROB GIFFORD: In his final appearance in the House of Commons today, Tony Blair was praised by all parties for his key role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. He's going to need all his considerable negotiating skills now in his new role. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia make up the so-called Quartet, which seeks to bring peace to the Middle East.
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said today that Blair was just the man for the job.
Ms. MICHELE MONTAS (United Nations' Spokeswoman): Following discussions among the principals, today, the Quartet dealing with the Middle East is announcing the appointment of Tony Blair as the Quartet representative. Mr. Blair, who is stepping down from office this week, has long demonstrated his commitment on these issues.
GIFFORD: The day had begun with Blair's final performance at Prime Minister's Questions in parliament, that great British tradition where the country's leader can be quizzed on any subject by any member of parliament.
Today, though, what is normally the bare pit of the House of Commons was transformed into a roomful of pussycats wanting to wish Blair well, even the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, David Cameron.
Mr. DAVID CAMERON (Leader, Conservative Party, United Kingdom): For all of the heated battles across this dispatch box, for 13 years, he has led his party, for 10 years, he had led our country, and no one can be, in any doubt, in terms of the huge efforts he has made in terms of public service.
Unidentified Group: Yeah.
GIFFORD: Despite some questions on Iraq, the whole occasion was almost free of partisan politics, an acknowledgement perhaps of Tony Blair's achievements of the last decade - the peace in Northern Irelands, death relief in Africa, money poured into health care and education at home. The great communicator communicated his final messages, cracked his final jokes and then, clearly moved by the occasion, made his final farewell to the House.
Mr. TONY BLAIR (Former Prime Minister, United Kingdom): Some may belittle politics, but we know, who are engaged in it, that it is where people stand tall. And, although I know it has its many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. And if it is, on occasions, the place of low skullduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes. And I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that. The end.
(Soundbite of applause)
GIFFORD: They're not supposed to clap, let alone stand up to applaud in the House of Commons, but the House rose as one to deliver a standing ovation. Not long after, Blair's successor, Gordon Brown stood on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street, at last, inheriting the post he has coveted so long. He also inherits plenty of potentially damaging political baggage from Tony Blair, not least Britain's continued involvement in Iraq. So his message as he entered 10 Downing Street was clear.
Prime Minister GORDON BROWN (United Kingdom): I have heard the need for change - change in our schools, change with affordable housing, change to build trust in government, change to protect and extend the British way of life. And this need for change cannot be met by the old politics.
GIFFORD: President Bush called Gordon Brown to congratulate him on his new position. As for Tony Blair, the skeptics wonder whether he could be credible in his new Middle Eastern position, bearing in mind his participation in the war in Iraq. The optimists say he may be able to work some political magic even there.
Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.
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