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Blair's `end' ushers in Brown's `change'

The outgoing premier is applauded even by the opposition as he exits Parliament. The queen empowers his successor.

June 28, 2007|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Tony Blair ended his decade as Britain's engaging but increasingly beleaguered prime minister Wednesday in an emotional farewell to the House of Commons, and Gordon Brown was installed as the new head of government.

"I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that -- the end," Blair said as members of Parliament rose in a rare eruption of applause. Several lawmakers wiped back tears, and even David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader known for his bruising and rollicking debates with Blair, called his backbenchers to their feet as the 54-year-old premier walked from the chamber.

"We're very glad to see him go, because he's the most dangerous opponent that we've had in a couple of hundred years," former Conservative leader William Hague told the BBC afterward. "There was a tear in his eye that was not part of the act. He was very sad to go, I think."

In the typical pomp and circumstance that accompany the transition of power in Britain, Blair traveled in his Jaguar as part of a motorcade to Buckingham Palace, where he submitted his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II. Brown made his way to the sovereign a short time later and became the 11th prime minister to accept her request to form a new government.

"I've heard the need for change. Change in our [National Health Service], change in our schools, change with affordable housing, change to build trust in government, change to protect and extend the British way of life," Brown said as he prepared to enter the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street.

"And this change cannot be met by the old politics," he said. "So I will reach out beyond narrow party lines. I will build a government that uses all the talents."

Brown, 56, has used the word "change" continually in his speeches in the last few weeks. He inherits a government of which he has been an integral part as treasury chancellor for 10 years. However, it has been increasingly under siege, beset with an unpopular war in Iraq and a series of scandals that accelerated Blair's departure midway through his third term.

Much of the Cabinet probably will be replaced in a reshuffle to make way for a new foreign secretary, home secretary and chancellor, among others. The moves will be a prelude to Brown's pledge to make the government more accountable to Parliament and more responsive on issues such as income disparities, juvenile crime and skyrocketing housing prices.

"On this day, I remember words that have stayed with me since my childhood, and which matter a great deal to me today, my school motto: 'I will try my utmost.' This is my promise to the people of Britain," Brown said.

While Brown was standing somewhat uneasily before a towering array of cameras outside Downing Street, Blair was making his way to King's Cross train station to travel to his constituency in Sedgefield, in northeastern England, in preparation for resigning his seat in Parliament. Without his accustomed security detail, he carried his own bag and made his way haltingly through throngs of fellow travelers.

Blair's final session in the House of Commons was distinguished by its kindness. The weekly prime ministerial appearances before the body are typically noisy, contentious and often humorous pieces of political theater, in which the opposition leader and the prime minister exchange biting and witty jabs to roars of approval or derision from the benches.

During Blair's last turn at the dispatch box, where he took on questions ranging from the Iraq war to the health service, both major opposition leaders -- of the Conservative and the Liberal Democratic parties -- took the opportunity to pay unusual personal tributes.

"For all of the heated battles across this dispatch box, for 13 years he has led his party, for 10 years he has led our country, and no one can be in any doubt in terms of the huge efforts he has made in terms of public service," Cameron said.

"He has considerable achievements to his credit, whether it is peace in Northern Ireland, whether it is his work in the developing world, which I know will endure."

Blair, who nearly always begins his sessions in the lower house by commemorating troops fallen in Iraq, made no exception in his last appearance.

"I've never come across people of such sustained dedication, courage and commitment. I'm truly sorry about the dangers they face today in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "I know some may think that they face these dangers in vain; I don't and never will.... They are the bravest and the best."

Later, Blair also paid tribute to Parliament.

"I can pay the house the greatest compliment I can by saying that from the first to last, I never stopped fearing it, and that tingling apprehension I felt at three minutes to 12 today, I felt as much 10 years ago, and it is every bit as acute. And it is in that fear that the respect is contained."


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