The challenges of global leadership are greater than ever, but there is reason for optimism if the West faces the future with confidence and recognizes the imperatives of change, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the audience Tuesday evening at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s annual dinner.
Increasing global interdependence is breeding increasing unpredictability, as events in one locale spark repercussions far away, Blair said. Politicians face huge pressures to angle for short-term political advantage rather than cooperate on prudent long-term policies.
“This is a tough time for leadership,” he said. Nevertheless, he added: “I am optimistic about the world.”
Blair, the prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007 and Labour Party leader from 1994 to 2007, spoke to a packed house at the chamber’s 140th annual dinner, held at the Lancaster County Convention Center.
He cited the rise of China, the revolutions in the Arab world and the economic struggles of Europe as defining events shaping the course of world events. He pleaded for engagement with China and the Mideast and for a middle course on economics that balances medium-term deficit reduction with the need to spur economic growth.
Western countries, built on democracy, the rule of law and free enterprise, remain a model for the rest of the world, he said. The developed world must adapt to new circumstances, but it need not resign itself to decline, he said.
“The West,” he said, “is not an empire built on interest, but a way of life built on values, values that are deeply embedded in the human spirit and are universal.”
Following his speech, Blair discussed his current events and his legacy as prime minister in a question-and-answer session with chamber President Tom Baldrige.
He described Europe’s fiscal crisis as a clash between politics and economics and called on Germany to make a “fundamental commitment” to preserving the euro. Though he supported Britain joining the euro, he acknowledged it is fortunate the country remains on the pound.
He talked about his friendships with former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush and the importance of the U.S.-U.K. relationship.
Political dynamics, he suggested, are fundamentally the same at all levels, from local to international.
“When you serve others is when you feel most proud,” he said. “There is no better purpose than the service of others.”