27 - Foreign policy  pp. 593-614


By Michael Clarke

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Tony Blair made a big difference to British foreign policy during his decade in Downing Street. He rose rapidly to the status of a key world leader, taking to foreign affairs more quickly and naturally than most Prime Ministers. His policies partly defined the turbulent international decade of his premiership and it was in foreign policy that he hoped his legacy might be most lasting. It was not that he had a well-worked design for foreign policy when he became Prime Minister; or that he was particularly well-informed on international affairs. He was said to travel light into global politics. But he had clear instincts, he had luck on his side in the early years, and he was determined in this, as in other fields, to find new ways of achieving old objectives. He both honoured the erstwhile continuity of British foreign policy and traduced it by effectively reinterpreting its goals. Part of that reinterpretation was driven by his perception of what he was inheriting. There seemed to be some easy, early gains to be made.

The legacy of Conservative foreign policy

The Conservative foreign policy that Tony Blair inherited was characterised by a realist orthodoxy based on a strong, Thatcherite, conception of nationhood and sovereignty. Foreign policy was fundamentally orientated to the politics and economics of European, Mediterranean, and Transatlantic spheres, with a hard-nosed concentration on trade and commerce elsewhere.