Former PM Tony Blair’s father dies

Tony Blair with his recently belated father, Leo Blair.Picture: Toby Melville/PA
Tony Blair with his recently belated father, Leo Blair.Picture: Toby Melville/PA
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TONY BLAIR’S father Leo has died, the former prime minister’s office announced today.

Tony Blair’s father Leo has died, the former prime minister’s office announced last night.

Mr Blair, who was with his father when he passed away earlier yesterday, said he was “privileged to have him as a Dad”.

The former prime minister, who pulled out of an engagement with former US president Bill Clinton on Thursday night after his father fell ill, said: “He was a remarkable man. Raised in a poor part of Glasgow, he worked his way up from nothing, with great ambitions dashed by serious illness on the very brink of their fulfilment.

“He lost my mother, whom he adored, when she was still young. Yet despite it all he remained animated by an extraordinary spirit that was in him until the end. I was privileged to have him as a Dad.”

In a statement, Mr Blair’s office said: “Mr Blair’s father, Leo, sadly passed away today. It was peaceful and Mr Blair was with him.”

Mr Blair snr, who was 89, was the son of travelling entertainers who gave him up for adoption by a Glasgow ship worker.

Mr Blair said that his father’s experience as a foster child had fuelled his interest in the adoption system, chairing a Cabinet committee which led to the

introduction of new laws and cutting away of red tape.

Mr Blair snr’s mother was, in the words of Tony Blair, a “militant socialist” who was secretary of the Glasgow Young Communists, and Mr Blair snr himself was a communist as a young man. He went on to serve in the Army during the Second World War, then, after demobilisation, studied law in his spare time to become a barrister and later a law lecturer in Australia and at Durham University.

He became a member of the Conservative Party and chairman of the Durham Conservative Association, and was developing a career on local television, when his dream of entering Parliament was scotched by a stroke at the age of 40, which affected his speech permanently, when his son Tony was 11.

Tragedy struck once more when his wife Hazel died of throat cancer in 1975.

Mr Blair snr remarried and moved to Shropshire with his second wife, Olwyn. He joined the Labour Party in his 70s, when his son became leader.

The former prime minister spoke frequently of his closeness to his father, and named his fourth child after him in 2000.

In his memoirs, Mr Blair said his father had been “formative” in shaping his own politics: “Not because he taught me a vast amount about politics in the sense of instruction in its business… but as a child I used to listen to his discussion with friends and absorb some of the arguments, hear the passion in their voices, and I obtained a little understanding of politics’ intricacies.”

He also admitted that being on the opposite side of the political fence from each other had “given rise to some fairly heated debate, though much less frequently than might have been the case”.

However, he said that his father had taught him “unconsciously” why people like him became Tories.

He said: “He had been poor. He was working class. He aspired to be middle class. He worked hard, made it on his merits, and wanted his children to do even better than him. He thought – as did many others of his generation – that the logical outcome of this striving, born of this attitude, was to be a Tory.”