I first met Tony Blair seven years ago, at the beginning of 1998. I remember well my sense of excitement as I headed to Hotel New Otani, carrying an invitation that had been delivered by the British Embassy for a breakfast meeting.
An anecdote told by Mr. Hirotaro Higuchi (former chairman of Asahi Breweries, Ltd.) had aroused my interest in Blair about two years after he became Prime Minister. Blair had come to Japan as the head of the opposition Labour Party and had asked to meet with Higuchi. It was during the New Year holiday season, and 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, so he agreed.
As opposition leader, Blair had only one reason for the meeting. He stated that he would soon become Prime Minister of the U.K., and promised there would be no dramatic changes in policy for Japanese investors in the U.K. Higuchi had been genuinely impressed, and I was also intrigued.
Blair was 43—my age—when he became prime minister. After attending the breakfast meeting with him seven years ago, I did not see him again in person until Davos this year. Even then, the closest I got was hearing the end of his speech.
Blair had been a keynote speaker on the first day of the Davos forum. On the second day, he participated in a panel discussion with musician Bono and Microsoft’s Bill Gates on eradicating poverty in Africa.
I have always felt nothing but sheer admiration for Blair’s communication skills. At Davos, I happened to run into his speechwriter, who informed me that Blair writes his own speeches for important events and had probably polished up this one in the helicopter on the way to Davos from London.
Blair fascinates people with his combination of unique charm and wit. These 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). Thanks to his efforts, London beat out the favorite, Paris, and was awarded the 2012 Olympics.
Without a doubt, being able to communicate in English is vital on the international stage. 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, Blair issued a resounding declaration at the Davos forum under the dual themes of eradicating poverty and preventing global warming. These two themes would also be at the center of debate at the following G8 summit.
Then came the terrorist bombings occurred in London.
Blair quickly left the venue and headed straight for the scene of the tragedy. 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 his passionate speech at Davos, Blair is someone who could really help lead the planet in the right direction. We are now in an age in which world leaders must have global conviction. They can no longer be concerned with only 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 work together to stop the conservative faction of the LDP from hampering reform.