I first met Tony Blair seven years ago, at the beginning of 1998. I remember well my sense of excitement as I headed to the site, Hotel New Otani, carrying an invitation that had been delivered by the British Embassy to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair over breakfast. (Refer to the column; "Breakfast Gathering with Tony Blair"
An anecdote told by Mr. Hirotaro Higuchi (former chairman of Asahi Breweries, Ltd.) had aroused my interest in Mr. Blair about two years after he was inaugurated as Prime Minister. According to Mr. Higuchi, Tony Blair had come to Japan, before becoming Prime Minister, when he was the head of the opposition Labour Party, and had asked to meet with Mr. Higuchi. It was during the New Year holiday season and Mr. Higuchi did not really want to be tied up with official business, but he was then serving as the chairman of the Nippon Keidanren's (Japan Business Federation) Committee on Europe, and so, with some reluctance, he accommodated the request. The man who came to meet him was the young head of the opposition, Tony Blair.
As opposition leader, Mr. Blair had only one reason for meeting Mr. Higuchi. He said to Mr. Higuchi with deep conviction: "I will soon become Prime Minister of the U.K. And I don't want you to worry about the Labour Party taking power. Once I become Prime Minister, there will be no dramatic changes in policy, and I hope that Japan will continue to invest in U.K." Mr. Higuchi told me that he had been genuinely impressed by Mr. Blair, and so I was also intrigued.
Tony Blair was my age—43—when he became Prime Minister. After attending the breakfast meeting with him seven years ago, I did not see him again in person until the Davos forum this year. And even then, the closest I got was to hear the end of his speech. Compared to my earlier encounter, Mr. Blair had gained an even greater presence.
Tony Blair had been a keynote speaker on the first day of the Davos forum, and on the second day he participated in a panel discussion with musician Bono and Microsoft's Bill Gates on eradicating poverty in Africa. (Please refer to Column; The 12 Pressing Problems at Davos) (Japanese)
I have always felt nothing but sheer admiration for Tony Blair's communication skills. At Davos, I had happened to run into his speechwriter, who informed me that Mr. Blair writes his own speeches for important events. And he practices them over and over again. The speechwriter said he had probably polished up this compelling speech in the helicopter on the way to Davos from London. So these communication skills are the fruits of his efforts.
Furthermore, Tony Blair fascinates people with his combination of unique charm and wit. These communication skills were particularly evident when he was campaigning for London's bid to host the Olympics. He traveled all the way to Singapore to meet with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and thanks to his efforts, London beat out the favorite, Paris, and was awarded the 2012 Olympics. I hate to say this, but I suspect that even if the other leaders had managed to make their appeals through their interpreters, no one would have felt as moved.
Without a doubt, being able to communicate in English is vital on the international stage. Tony Blair is also competent in French, and that, beyond his advantage of having English as his native tongue, gives him a genuine international sensitivity.
This year, with the U.K. sponsoring the summit and holding the presidency of the EU, Tony Blair issued a resounding declaration at the Davos forum under the dual themes of eradicating poverty and preventing global warming.
And these two themes would to be at the center of debate at the following G8 summit. However, just as it was all getting underway, the terrorist bombings occurred in London. Tony Blair quickly left the venue and headed straight for the scene of the tragedy in London. The discussions at the summit had been trumped by an act of terrorism. This was a dreadful shame.
Based on my memories of him at the breakfast meeting and having heard his passionate speech at the Davos forum, I think he is someone I would really like to see helping to pull the planet in the right direction as a leader. We are now in an age in which world leaders must have a conviction to lead the world. They will stop being recognized as world leaders if they are only concerned with domestic problems and the profit and loss of their own nations.
I really hope that Japan too can turn out dynamic politicians with deep convictions and beliefs. I get the feeling that Prime Minister Koizumi is a remarkably better leader than his predecessors; he doesn't flinch at the challenge of reform and always says things in his own words, something that has earned the respect of leaders in other countries.
We, the people, put these leaders in place. I believe the people need to speak out more. I think it's a shame that young people in their 20s and 30s do not vote. We need young people to stand up, and to work together to stop the conservative faction of the LDP from hampering reform efforts. I think this ferment of consciousness will generate the energy to turn out good leaders from Japan.
From now on, we might be entering time when we send out our voices through blogs.
July 9, 2005
Our prayers are with the victims of the London bombings.