Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a talk by Tony Blair! It was a public lecture held at the University Cultural Centre on “The Crisis in Global Governance: Challenges & Solutions”. I was really excited when I received the invitation. Although some say you could easily watch videos of him online, seeing him in person was really an experience in itself.
As expected, the delivery of his speech was flawless; very personal and engaging. What I liked most about it was how he slipped in snippets of his personal life, experience and political jokes (which was more of a highlight than the core topic). If you read some journals on Global Governance, you would have heard 70% of his speech. Hence, I will be writing more about the personal things he shared.
Technology is a DEMON
Blair started off by speaking about his “tech-savvy”ness. It seems, believe it or not, he has never written an e-mail or used a cell phone before his resignation. All of us were amused to hear this coming from the former leader of one of the world’s most developed nations! He only got himself acquainted with a cell phone a month after leaving office. One can only imagine the amount of pampering he got from his assistants.
He then moved on to talk about how technology is globalizing the world to a stage where a small incident happening across the world can have a future effect on his country and whether we like it or not, we are all “globalizers” by default. (This reminds me of the book “The World is Flat”).
Some leadership points…
Following from the above, a leader must be able to see this future effect and implement quick measures to counter it, which he uses to justify his decision on Iraq. Bush and him believed that if Saddam continued to be in power, both their countries will soon face serious negative effects which he did not define.
He then highlighted how leaders have to make unpopular decisions which may at times seem rash, for a future benefit that is not currently evident. He references this with the university fee hike incident that almost cost him his job. The rational is he saw a future where US universities would be overtaking UK universities in being world leaders unless a fee hike was implemented to improve facilities, research and the infrastructure. Looking at the world university rankings, guess he was right.
My summary: Good leaders are able to connect seemingly unrelated dots to weave a web of the future.
Politicians lie more than we think!
Another personal story he shared was about “something” he always wanted to do but couldn’t until his resignation. Every time new buzz words are introduced, he has a very short time frame to understand them. Sometimes before he is able to do so he gets questions where he has to respond in a manner that shows he understands it. For the first time in 8 years, he got a phone call where someone said “Such such and such, these are the statistics, what do you think?” and he could sincerely respond “I don’t know”. He was overjoyed at being able to do this, showing how much politicians lie!
A particularly interesting phrase he mentioned (which will be my favourite for a long time) goes:
“Politicians are only telling you the truth when they tell you something you don’t want to hear. They do this because an alternative explanation would make them look stupid”.
My friend’s immediate response: “No wonder Bush always sound stupid”.
The birth of his son
Tony Blair is the first British prime minister to have a son born during his term in 150 years. When the announcement of his wife being pregnant was made, the whole country brewed with excitement. He then said “Sometimes it makes you wonder what the previous prime ministers of the past 150 years were doing”.
Apart from the British, one guy (I forgot who) in Northern Ireland was excited about this news as well. During a meeting there, he pulled Blair aside and asked “Oh! Its wonderful that you’re having a child. What’s the child’s name going to be?”. Blair answered “Well, if its a boy, I’ll name him after my dad. If its a girl, I’ll name her ____”.
At the same meeting a year later, Blair noticed the guy had a VERY nice tan, one which you can’t get in Northern Ireland. Blair approached him and asked “Wow, that’s a nice tan you got there! Where did you get it?” and the reply was “Well, the bookmakers were offering a lot for the name of the child”. Blair’s response? “………………”
From politician to idealist
One of the changes I noticed in Blair’s speech was how the statements he make now are more idealistic and sincere. His solutions to the challenges of Global Governance are great solutions which we hope will happen, but know may not be possible when implemented because of the numerous problems that will crop up.
For example, during the Q&A session, he was posed a question on how to resolve the Palestine–Israel conflict. According to him, to effectively resolve this, governments of both countries need to sit down together and come up with a compromise which both sides are willing to agree with.
He believes that there are people in both countries who want to resolve this age-old conflict and move on to more bigger plans. In fact, he believes that Israel is not so concerned about land ownership but rather the level of Israel’s security. His proposed solution is for Palestine to build up the infrastructure of the city while Israel simultaneously implements measures to address security concerns.
To many, this is an impossible solution as these 2 countries have been fighting for a dream they have believed in for ages. Asking them to make a compromise would be hitting a brick wall. Then again, there have been seemingly outrageous ideals of the past which have lead to positive outcomes. Hence, I’d disagree with those who say that Blair’s proposals are impossible until we try them out.
As said by Anatole France (1844 – 1924):
To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act.
Overall, his speech left me on an extremely inspired and delighted note. He is a truly great public speaker who gets his message through with simplicity, clarity and effortless engagement.
Thank you to my university for inviting Tony Blair to speak and for opening up this rare opportunity to students! I heard that it costs quite a bit to get him. (Rumours are, US$500K). Am definitely looking forward to hearing his future speeches.