Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Speaks at Judson University’s World Leaders Forum
(Elgin, IL - April 13, 2013) “Judson University’s call is to shape those who shape the world,” said Dr. Gene C. Crume, Judson University’s President Elect, in his opening remarks for the World Leaders Forum on Friday, April 12. Dr. Crume introduced the event’s keynote speaker, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a crowd of more than 600 gathered in Herrick Chapel.
“Blair embodies this idea and has shaped the world as a better place for all people.”
Mr. Blair spoke in two separate events for the Forum, first to a VIP Reception for 150 sponsors and entrepreneurs, and then to the crowd of 600 Judson community members, including current students, alumni, faculty and staff. He shared a wealth of insights related to his leadership as Britain's head of state for the private Christian university's third annual event, which brings recognized world leaders to the Fox Valley every year.
At the VIP Reception he gave a keynote address titled, "Leadership Insights: Faith, Power and the Postmodern World," a theme that pervaded his answers to the many questions asked of him throughout the evening. He touched on current events and issues facing world leaders today, as well as questions about his personal career and his faith.
When asked about how his Christian faith influenced his political leadership, Mr. Blair acknowledged the cultural differences between how Americans and British express their personal religious beliefs.
"One big difference between the United States and the United Kingdom, is that in the U.S. it’s okay to talk about faith openly. In the U.K. we’re a little more… British about that," he said, much to the crowd's amusement, recollecting the time that he asked his staff about adding "God bless Great Britain" to the end of his public speeches in the same manner that U.S. presidents are accustomed to saying "God bless America."
"They told me, 'No, you can't do that, Prime Minister,'" he recalled. "They even formed a committee to talk about it. 'This isn't America, Prime Minister,' they told me.' So I had to leave it at that."
"Here's the thing," he said, choosing to answer the question more seriously. "Your faith doesn’t tell you the right answer to everything. I can’t go off and pray about the inflation rate and return with an answer for parliament so that I can say, 'See? In a year, you'll have nothing to worry about!' What faith does is give you strength to do what you think is right. Once I came to a certain view, it gave me strength to make a difficult decision by doing what I believed to be right, and then let people do with it what they will.'"
Despite his very "British" sensibilities of expressing his personal faith as a world leader, Mr. Blair has invested a majority of his time since leaving office promoting faith as a force for good in the world. He established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in May 2008, to promote respect of and between the major world religions.
"The reason I started my foundation was to educate each other about different faiths," Mr. Blair explained. "Today, globalization is pushing the world together, and people of different faiths are living alongside each other. If we don’t create situations to learn from each other, there will be tension; we see it everywhere right now. The real point - and this can make some people uncomfortable - is that we all have a responsibility to work across the faith divide."
Judson Alumnus Nate Adams '80, who acted as the Q&A moderator for the Community Event, asked Blair several questions about current events including North Korean nuclear threats, the civil conflict in Syria, and the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Monday, April 8.
"Thatcher really was a great supporter of the alliance between the United States and United Kingdom," he recalled. "The big challenge during her time was the collapse of communism. Now, we deal with rogue states that don’t abide by norms. It's all very hard to grapple with, and similar to communism, it is a long struggle that will last a generation. The thing we have to take from Thatcher’s leadership is that free nations such as the U.S. and U.K. should stand and stick together."
Mr. Blair was asked many questions about his own relationship with U.S. Presidents, specifically Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who both held office while Mr. Blair served as Prime Minister. He shared humorous personal memories of both leaders, and spoke about the necessity of personal relationships for successful leadership.
"One thing that always surprises the general public about top level leadership is that personal relationships really matter, just as they do in other parts of life and levels of leadership," said Mr. Blair. "It’s based in part on shared values, but also based on close personal understanding of each other."
Rebekah Hagstrom, parent of Judson student Nils Hagstrom, asked how Mr. Blair managed to have such rapport with President Bush at a time when political leadership seems so partisan and ideologically divided. Mr. Blair didn't speak to his ideological differences from Bush or Clinton, but spoke to the common problem for all government leaders, no matter their party or their country.
"The paradox in politics - and this is not just limited to the United States - is that the public wants more peace, but the political parties want more partisanship," Mr. Blair explained. "When your party becomes more partisan, you are faced with hard choices. You could choose to say one thing to your party base and another to the public, which is a bad idea, or you can be prepared to toe the party line. But do you have courage to stand up to your party base? At several points in my leadership, I had to stand up to my own party and say, 'Now that I'm Prime Minister, I am here to represent all the country, not just my party.'"
His responses depicted a series of one hard decision after another during his time as Prime Minister. When asked about the highlights of his years in British government, Blair responded that there are few joyful moments in being a world leader, but he considers the Good Friday peace agreement and the bid for the London 2012 Olympic games among his fondest memories. No matter the subject in question, Mr. Blair’s tone remained positive and compassionate, even as he highlighted some of the ironies that come with the opportunity to lead people.
"Sometimes I think that the great irony of leadership is that you start out at your most popular and least capable, and at the end you're at your least popular and most capable," he joked.
The World Leaders Forum, which has been established to fund Judson's new Entrepreneurial and Business Leadership Program and the Judson Student Scholarship Fund, brings recognized world leaders to Judson and the surrounding community annually. In previous years, the World Leaders Forum has had the privilege of hosting former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in 2012, and former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2011.
The World Leaders Forum would not be possible without the partnership of these businesses. Platinum Level Sponsors of the World Leaders Forum include W. R. Meadows, INC., 89 WLS Radio, Kent Corporation, Spectrum Technologies, Inc., OTTO Engineering, Inc., and Sargent and Lundy. Gold Level Sponsors of the World Leaders Forum include Packaging By Design, FONA International, Zimmerman Ford, EFS Foundation, Shales McNutt Construction, Hoffer Plastics Corporation, Dana B. Davidson CPA Company, P.C., Heritage-Crystal Clean, and Wanxiang America Corporation. For a complete list of Judson’s corporate sponsors at JudsonU.edu/wlf/partnerships.
Photo by John Starks. For a complete slide show, visit JudsonU.edu/wlf
Judson University is a fully accredited, private Christian university of the liberal arts, sciences and professions. Judson offers degrees in more than 60 different majors/minors for traditional, graduate, and adult students. Judson University ranks consistently among the Top-Tier of Regional Colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report. In 2013, Judson is celebrating its Golden Centennial Anniversary, commemorating 50 years since the college's relocation to Elgin in 1963, after being founded in 1913 as part of Northern Theological Seminary. With an academically challenging environment and encouraging spiritual community, Judson shapes lives that will shape the world.