Tony Blair Elected Labour Leader
The 21st of July 1994 AD
The untimely death of John Smith in May 1994 meant that the Labour Party required a new leader. Derby MP Margaret Beckett as deputy leader held the fort until the election could take place, and she was one of the three eventual candidates. The others were John Prescott , MP for Hull East and former trade union activist, and Anthony Blair , alumnus of Fettes College (‘the Eton of the North’), barrister, and MP for Sedgefield . Not standing was Gordon Brown , who as we learned over the coming years had made a pact with Blair to give the latter a free run in return for agreed policies and a sharing of powers.
Blair was only 41, an MP from the age of 30, promoted to the opposition front bench the year after his entry to the Commons. He was a gifted orator, in marked contrast to his two opponents in the leadership race; and understood the power of television in modern politics. Prescott provided the passion in the contest, and came second with 24.1 per cent; Beckett came third with just 18.9 per cent; Blair triumphed gaining 57 per cent of the overall vote, and winning in each of the three sections: affiliates, constituencies, and the Parliamentary Labour Party.
At the University of London where the declaration was made on July 21 Blair made a speech which praised his opponents – it had indeed been a cleanly fought battle – and outlined his hopes for power and what could be done with it after such a lengthy period of Tory rule. It was a skilful and engaging speech. The comparisons with Prime Minister John Major , a grey-haired man often called grey by the media, already began to weigh in favour of a Labour victory at the next election.
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