May 30, 1997 in Nation/World

Bully, Bully, Bill! Clinton And Tony Blair, New British Prime Minister, Are Two Peas In A Political Pod.

Nancy Mathis Houston Chronicle

Tony Blair, the new British prime minister who used President Clinton’s campaign playbook to plot his election victory, hailed a “new generation of leadership” Thursday as the two leaders celebrated their similarities.

Blair, 44, and Clinton, 50, met at 10 Downing Street as like-minded baby boomers who moved their parties to the political center and gained success at the polls.

Clinton’s brief stopover here ended a three-day European visit marked by the signing of a historic NATO-Russia accord in Paris and ceremonies in the Netherlands commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan.

Blair and Clinton highlighted their common ideas - better education, welfare reform, anti-crime initiatives, fiscal restraint - that they contend are sweeping the world.

“This is a new era which calls for a new generation politics and a new generation of leadership.” Blair said, as he and Clinton met reporters in a sun-drenched garden. “This is a generation that prefers reason to doctrine, that is strong in ideals but indifferent to ideology, whose instinct is to judge government not on grand designs, but by practical results.”

Clinton struck a more amused tone.

“I have read countless articles about how Prime Minister Blair and I have everything in common, and I’m still looking for my 179-seat majority,” the president said, referring to the Labor Party’s huge lead in Parliament. Clinton, by contrast, faces an opposition Republican majority in Congress.

During the news conference, Clinton commented on several international issues, saying:

Allied forces in Bosnia must “work like crazy” to get peace accords back on schedule before military peacekeepers leave in 13 months. He added that all parties, including the United States, should concentrate on how to enact the accords, not the date that troops will leave. Aides later denied that Clinton cracked the door to U.S. troops staying longer than the June 1998 deadline for withdrawal.

Iran’s election of a moderate cleric as president appeared interesting. Clinton said he hoped for an eventual end to the estrangement between Iran and the United States.

“What we hope for is a reconciliation with a country that does not believe that terrorism is a legitimate extension of political policies, that would not use violence to wreck a peace process in the Middle East and would not be trying to develop weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

The Irish Republican Army must declare a cease-fire before peace talks with Sinn Fein and other Northern Ireland parties can begin.

The hourlong news conference was dominated, however, by questions about the comparisons being made of the two leaders.

A London billboard still mockingly proclaims, “US candidate wins British Elections.” The British press dubbed Blair the “Clinton clone,” as he moved the liberal Labor Party to the “radical center” just as Clinton moved the Democratic Party to the political middle.

The two men’s wives also share similarities.

Cherie Booth Blair, like Hillary Rodham Clinton, is an attorney of note.

She was chief family breadwinner before her husband’s victory and serves as a part-time judge for lower level civil cases.

Like Hillary Clinton, Cherie Blair toned down her outspoken personality while her husband campaigned for office. The two women attended a Shakespeare event at the Globe Theater before joining their husbands for dinner. Unlike Hillary Clinton, however, Cherie Blair is keeping her job.

Blair and the Labor Party swept into office May 1 with overwhelming voter rejection of incumbent John Major and the Conservative Party, which had dominated Britain’s politics for nearly two decades.

“I think it’s a perfectly healthy thing if we realize that these are common developments the world over. I mean, this isn’t just something that’s to do with the United States or to do with Britain,” Blair said.

“There is a different generation of political leaders.”

Clinton said mind-set more than age defines the new wave of leaders. He said Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, who is older, and others “have a common understanding of the kind of changes that are sweeping through the world.”

Both Clinton and Blair have faced criticism from within their own parties for borrowing from the agendas of their more conservative political opponents - especially when it comes to government fiscal restraint.

“I want us to be in a position - as the progressive party - where we can’t launch a big new program unless we raise the money for it or growing the economy to fund it,” Clinton said. “That’s the way we ought to do it. That is the fiscally responsible way to do it. So I’m happy with that criticism, and I plead guilty, and the results are good.”

Chirped Blair, “I like that very much, indeed.”

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