Tony Blair tells students it’s important to be more than just smart, and to get some real life experience


Tony_Blair_WEF_2008_croppedBy Simon R. Bone, Editor-in-Chief

In a five-times oversubscribed event, the Harvard Kennedy School was fortunate enough to host Tony Blair, Ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Middle East Peace Envoy, in an event sponsored by The Center for Public Leadership.

After being introduced, he remarked that he was reminded of being asked once his views on the early 19th-century prime minister Lord Liverpool. Blair said that unfortunately he had forgotten who Lord Liverpool was to which the interviewer retorted “Well you had better make sure people don’t forget who you are!”

However, there is little chance of Blair being forgotten, having been the longest-serving British prime minister of recent time. In his talk, he discussed his views on the Middle East, Ukraine and some fascinating insights on political leadership and campaigning.

He spoke of the discontinuity of running for power and actually getting elected: How on entering No.10 as the first Labour government in almost fifteen years and sitting down with the head of the Civil Service who said bluntly “Well done. Now what?” They were, in many ways, “thrown in at the deep end”.

Speaking of American politics, he said that while it was apparent that the two parties had become more partisan, this was not the case for the general population. Blair said that the middle ground is more popular than ever before with the electorate. It was, he said, a mistake to have one conversation with your party and another with the people you want to elect you.

While it is important to remember that “politics is politics” and any participant will have to deal with some people they don’t particularly identify with or like, without coalitions of some type, it is impossible to ever rise above a base level.

Finally, he gave two good pieces of advice to HKS students:

It is important to be intelligent, but nobody ever got elected by appearing smart. He gave the example of Bill Clinton who, despite being an incredibly clever man, had the “common touch” and was known as the “Great Communicator”.

It is essential to gain real world experience before entering politics. Otherwise, he said, you simply will not be able to implement policies effectively.

Leaving the auditorium to loud applause, Blair stayed on campus for a few more hours to meet individually with faculty members and supporters.

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