- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2005

LONDON — In the week that saw Britain’s emotional gamut range from Olympic pride to blood-spattered despair, Prime Minister Tony Blair has been transformed from a besieged politician headed for an early retirement to an acclaimed statesman with perhaps years of leadership to come.

The prime minister owes his reversal of fortune to creating a major deal on aid to Africa engineered with world leaders in Scotland while playing a cool, resolute hand after the terrorist attacks on London.

“Mr. Blair is not unravaged by the cares of office, but he still looks as if he has political ‘legs,’” said pundit Peter McKay, one of the most prominent critics of Mr. Blair of the Labor Party.

“Maybe he hopes now to lead Labor to another victory so that he can enjoy, as prime minister, the great sporting spectacle of 2012,” the conservative Mr. McKay said, referring to London’s hosting of that year’s Olympics.

Two months ago, Mr. Blair’s administration was under fire for everything from dirty hospitals to Europe’s most unreliable rail system. Moreover, he had just overseen the election loss of 93 seats in his ever-ebbing majority in Parliament.

His shoulders slumping, his hairline receding and his face etched with the lines left by eight years in office, Mr. Blair seemed burdened by the weight of the world when he announced that he had no intention of seeking a fourth term as prime minister.

But as a former British prime minister, Harold Wilson, once said, “A week is a long time in politics.”

Perhaps the most dramatic week of Mr. Blair’s political career began July 6 when the International Olympic Committee awarded London the Summer Games over front-runner rival Paris.

Mr. Blair’s appearance in Singapore, where he met with Olympic delegates, was widely credited with swinging the vote to the British capital.

The fact that the furious French accused the British leader of cheating with his last-minute lobbying won the prime minister even more admiring applause from delighted folks back home.

But the last of the confetti hadn’t even been swept from London’s streets before terrorists launched the biggest attack on the city since World War II — a series of coordinated suicide bomb blasts that killed at least 54 persons and brought London to a halt.

It was then that Mr. Blair came into his statesmanlike own. He quickly left other world leaders in Scotland, where he had been chairing a summit meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, to take charge of the crisis in London — an adroit move that won praise from friend and political foe alike.

His performance was contrasted with President Bush’s delayed return to Washington on September 11, 2001. The comparison played well in Britain, where Mr. Bush is not particularly popular.

Mr. Blair’s flight to London softened the words of his critics, who had dubbed him “Bush’s poodle” because of Britain’s backing of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Mr. Blair’s chief political opponent on the home front, Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, led the applause, praising the prime minister for the “calm, resolute and statesmanlike way” in which he responded to the bombings and to the manner in which he “articulated the nation’s profound sorrow.”

Mr. Blair wasn’t through. In his final flourish of this extraordinary week, he flew back to Scotland to win plaudits for supervising a conference that, against odds, managed to produce a deal writing off a large chunk of African debt and pledging to double aid to the continent.

Another frequent critic, Daily Mail newspaper pundit Steven Glover, cited Mr. Blair for “the miraculous week he has enjoyed — from almost single-handedly winning the Olympics for London to presiding majestically over the G-8 summit … to his statesmanlike performance after last Thursday’s bombs.”

Speculation that Mr. Blair would retire next year, rampant just a few months ago, has all but disappeared.

Instead, Mr. Blair is riding a crest of popularity perhaps unsurpassed since he became prime minister in 1997, and his policies — particularly those dealing with terrorism — are likely to win swift passage through Parliament in the months ahead.

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