Staying up late with Tony Blair

May 2, 1997

Tony Blair's political career has not come as a great surprise to an ex-academic in a good position to know. Today Geoff Gallop, a fellow student at St John's, Oxford in the early 1970s, is also a Labor leader, in Western Australia's state parliament.

It is well known that at university Mr Blair was a member of a rock band called Ugly Rumours but not of any political party.

Dr Gallop recalls: "It wasn't inevitable that Tony would go into politics, he was strongly interested in the church. But politics was always a serious possibility. There was no doubt that he was left of centre. As a former public schoolboy he deeply disliked the class structure and inequality of British society."

Dr Gallop may have had a part in urging Blair into a more active role: "I was very actively involved myself and used to say 'if you want to change the world you've got to get out and do things'."

Both men were involved in the group around Australian Peter Thompson which held intense late-night discussions on philosophy: "We'd argue about things like what constituted a good society and how you obtained it - whether reform or revolution was better."

"Tony was always interested in ideas," says Dr Gallop, and developed a strong interest in the sociology of law: "Questions of context, and how law reflects society".

Dr Gallop returned to Oxford in the late 1970s as a junior research fellow at Nuffield College: "I spent a few Christmases with Tony and Cherie. By then he had joined the Labour party. The chambers he joined was very strongly Labour and I think Cherie's background was an influence as well.

"He never contemplated joining the Social Democrats. We talked about it at length, and although by then he was certain that an alternative had to be found to the new right and Bennism, he was sure the SDP was not the answer."

Dr Gallop's recruitment of Mr Blair to the college cricket XI was slightly less successful: "He made a duck and his bowling was hit all over the place."

In 1981 Dr Gallop returned to Australia to lecture in politics at Murdoch University, Western Australia, entering Nuffield College legend by leaving with a steamer trunk full of his notes on 18th-century radicalism.

Elected to the state parliament in 1986, Dr Gallop became Labor leader last autumn, but is wary of drawing too many parallels between himself and Mr Blair, who has visited Australia four times in the last 15 years.

"One important difference is that where British Labour has been out, we have been in power at federal level for most of the last 15 years," he emphasises.

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