Tony Blair Bids Farewell to 10 Downing Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves office Wednesday after 10 years in power. The new prime minister is Gordon Brown, with whom Blair has had a complicated relationship. Screenwriter and Blair aficionado Peter Morgan looks back at Blair's tenure.
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Tony Blair Bids Farewell to 10 Downing

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Tony Blair Bids Farewell to 10 Downing

Tony Blair Bids Farewell to 10 Downing

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Anthony Brooks. Coming up: The hype never stops, but is the promise of the iPhone too good to be true?

BRAND: But first...

Prime Minster TONY BLAIR (United Kingdom): And now to my engagements, this morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others in addition to my duties in the House. I will have no such further meetings today or any other day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: That is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his final question-hour session in front of the House of Commons today. He stepped down after 10 years in office. His successor, the new prime minister, is Gordon Brown. Brown and Blair have had an intense and complicated relationship over the years.

Joining me now to shed more insight into both the former and current British prime ministers is writer Peter Morgan. He captured Brown and Blair's relationship in the drama, "The Deal." Morgan is better known here in America for his screenplay for the movie, "The Queen." Peter Morgan, welcome to the program.

Mr. PETER MORGAN (Screenwriter): Thank you.

BRAND: I understand you were there at that speech. You just got back from the House of Commons. What was the atmosphere like?

Mr. MORGAN: It was astonishing for a number of reasons. When he first got to his feet, he got things going with look, you know, I know a number of you are intensely critical of the reasons why we're in Iraq, but I think you all share my support for the armed forces and so forth. And it was very shrewd, but I think a sincere way getting things going, because had there been any intent by Cameron to attack him, he pretty much got the first blow in and then was quite contrite.

BRAND: You're talking David Cameron, the leader of the opposition.

Mr. MORGAN: The leader of the Conservative Party, yeah. All he did was sort of pay respects and wish the family well and pay tributes to Blair, you know, for his achievements. And that set in motion a sort of extraordinary domino effect, where one political rival after another would just get to their feet and pay tribute to this man. And when he finally said on that and that's it and got down from the dispatch box at 12:31, the House of Commons, you know, as one, got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.

It's completely unprecedented. I think maybe, you know, in American politics, you're used to that sort of rounds of applause and so forth in the Senate. For him to have left so victoriously on a date of his own choosing and a time of his own choosing to a job of his own choosing, and to - with the applause of his political enemies ringing in his ears, it's just completely extraordinary.

BRAND: Let's talk about the relationship that you captured in your drama from 2003, "The Deal," between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - no secret, of course, that they've had a very tumultuous relationship. Give us some more insight into these two men and how they - how the change of power happened.

Mr. MORGAN: These two young, attractive, charismatic men, also extremely close friends, became the rising stars of the Labour movement, and it was always assumed that Brown was the senior partner - the elder brother. And so when out of absolutely nowhere, John Smith, who was then the Labour leader, dropped dead of a heart attack in 1994, you know, one of these two was going to become the leader.

It was always assumed that it was going to be Brown. But in the moment of sort of devastating political ambition and decisiveness - and ruthlessness, really - Tony Blair leapt into the spotlight and got the press behind him. And suddenly, that was a momentum that Brown could ill afford to challenge. So they had this, now legendary dinner in an Islington restaurant, which was called Granita. And it's now, you know, in political circles in England, the Granita Pact, where, effectively, Blair said, look. I know that I've jumped ahead of you, but I will stand aside in your favor.

And Brown said, well, when will you stand aside? And Blair, you know, famously was supposed to have said, in about six years. Well, it's taken him 10 years. Today, you know, it was quite an emotional, you know, moment. Finally, the changeover has happened.

BRAND: Compare, a little bit, the two men.

Mr. MORGAN: Here's the difference, in one sentence. Brown dreamed of being leader of the Labour Party. Tony Blair dreamed of being prime minister. And there's a really core difference there. For Brown, the Labour movement and what the Labour movement represents is in his DNA. For Blair, I often think of Blair as like one of these fashion house guys who has taken over a fashion house, is completely enough to be ambivalent to what the fashion house did represent historically, and has given it a complete makeover - rather like Tom Ford did with Gucci.

And the reason why it's been such a completely riveting story in Westminster is by Blair moving the political gender so much to the center, it's effectively robbed Britain of two-party politics. As I grew up - when I grew up as a child, my uncle was a socialist and my father a conservative. It meant that every meal in our house was agony.

It was a sort of conflict zone. The deliciousness of Brown was that you knew he had nothing but contempt and loathing for his neighbor in Downing Street, and that actually the only real conflict of the heart of British politics is actually often been between the two people living at number 10 and number 11.

BRAND: Peter Morgan is a screenwriter and playwright. He wrote "The Deal," which aired on channel 4 in Britain in 2003. He also wrote the movie "The Queen," and also the play on Broadway right now, "Frost/Nixon." Peter Morgan, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. MORGAN: Pleasure.

Prime Minister BLAIR: I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is - that's the end.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

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