Tony Blair Takes the Stage

By Megan McDonald February 25, 2011


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

I had the opportunity to attend the Ringling Town Hall lecture Wednesday featuring former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was a sellout crowd for Blair’s speech, but most of the applause came when Blair was answering questions (submitted by the audience) from Town Hall chair Kathleen Weiner.

Blair fielded questions on the United Kingdom’s national healthcare program vs. ours (“There is no perfect system, and making changes in healthcare is the toughest thing you will ever try to do in politics,” he says), compared George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (“Staggering insight,” he joked, “they’re very different”) and encouraged the United States and European countries to remain strong against terrorism. He added he’s convinced that the democratic way of life is the way of the future, as evidenced by current uprisings against dictatorships in several Middle Eastern countries, and added that he thinks his legacy, overall, may be “a sense of optimism.”

He also spoke of wife Cherie’s role during his time in office (“Obviously you discuss things with your partner, but when you have three teenagers, dinner conversation isn’t always about geopolitics”) and admitted he’s never seen the movie The Queen, where he was played by actor Michael Sheen. “I met with the Queen, and she said, ‘You know, there’s this movie coming out…and I shan’t be watching it. Will you?’” he recalls. “I sort of promised not to, and I’ve kept that promise.”

One other good laugh line: In praising sunny Sarasota (“where Brits get sunburnt their first day”), he added, “The founding of the British Empire was probably just a search for good weather.” All in all, judging by comments I overheard, the crowd found Blair “charming and quick-witted.”

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