WASHINGTON (2/25/14)--Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the U.S. credit union movement Monday at the Credit Union National Association 2014 Government Affairs Conference in Washington.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair jokes with his credit union audience at CUNA's 2014 GAC that he was "feeling quite sorry lawmakers on Capitol Hill" facing credit unions' lobbying plans for later in the week. On a serious note he says he's "impressed" by such advocacy efforts. (CUNA Photo)
Blair lauded the work credit unions do for millions of Americans, opining that "we're rather behind you in the U.K. and Europe."
The former prime minister told the packed conference hall that he had learned "quite a lot" and was impressed by the impending lobbying push organized by CUNA and the credit union movement. He joked that the lobbying plans for later in the week left him "feeling quite sorry lawmakers on Capitol Hill." CUNA, the state credit union associations and credit unions launch a massive advocacy effort in conjunction with the GAC every year to much note in Washington, D.C.
Although a controversial figure in Britain throughout his leadership, Blair has enjoyed a relatively high rate of popularity in the U.S.
His approval ratings, while in office, were roughly twice as strong on the western side of the Atlantic (USA Today
Jan. 24, 2006), and he was warmly received by the GAC audience, who gave him a standing ovation at both the start and end of his talk.
"It's amazing how nice people are to you when you stop being prime minister," he chuckled.
Blair highlighted a number of global issues throughout his talk. He discussed international development and how an increasingly economically integrated world has intensified the speed and scope of political change. Blair also argued that there is a need for economic reforms in both Europe and the U.S. and encouraged Americans to continue to embrace world leadership as Asian countries become more powerful.
Despite the weighty focus, Blair further seemed to endear himself to the crowd with his sense of humor. He made a number of comical remarks in a speech punctuated by laughter from the audience--described by the former leader at the onset as "light relief talking about world affairs."
He joked about how he thought it was "not very supportive" when Cherie, his wife, told him that the number of trips he has made to the Middle East as a special envoy--114, he said--isn't as important as the progress being made in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Blair also poked fun at his efforts to help his 13-year-old son Leo with his homework, marveling at the gadgets the teenager uses to learn, and describing his assistance as "utterly inadequate." He also said that he never had a cell phone as prime minister, which, he said, "in light of recent events, was just as well"--a reference to the scandalous tabloid phone-hacking conspiracy that victimized his successor, Gordon Brown.
The ex-Labour Party leader's self-deprecation did serve to illustrate his point about how rapidly technology is changing the world. Blair said this was a cause for optimism. He told the audience how his recently deceased father, who was also named Leo, grew up in a working-class foster home in Glasgow and would be thrilled that extreme poverty is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
He did warn, however, that middle-class families are being squeezed in countries throughout the world--a phenomenon that has affected security. Blair said this was most recently highlighted by unrest in Ukraine.
"We need to make work pay, which is why the minimum wage is such an issue in Europe and here, too," Blair said. Higher wages, he argued, should also be able to reduce reliance on the welfare state--something Blair sought to reform throughout his decade in office.
Whatever the course of action for tackling any problem, Blair encouraged the GAC attendees to resist the urge to resort to short-term solutions designed to placate the loudest naysayers. The challenges facing institutions throughout the world, he said, makes passivity tempting.
Successful leaders, he said, "perceive the direction of change and the leadership to take us there."