| A woman delivers flowers for Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street. (AFP)
London, Oct. 20 (Reuters): British leader Tony Blair was “100 per cent recovered” today after needing electric shocks to regulate heart palpitations over the weekend in the first health scare of his premiership, his office said.
“This is not a long-term cardiac condition. It is relatively minor,” said a Blair spokesperson. “His appetite for the job is the same today as any other day.”
After easing up slightly today, Blair will soon resume his full schedule, the spokesperson added. He will have his regular audience with the Queen tomorrow, take Prime Minister’s questions in parliament on Wednesday and hold his monthly news conference on Thursday.
“He is fit, fine, in good spirits and 100 per cent recovered,” the spokesperson said.
Underlying what Downing Street said were Blair’s undimmed energy levels, he would even be touring the regions on Thursday and Friday, the spokesperson said.
The 50-year-old Blair, who has had the toughest year of his six-year rule with the Iraq war and its difficult aftermath, was under doctors’ orders to stay quiet today after five hours’ of treatment under sedation yesterday. He sent foreign minister Jack Straw in his place to report on a European Union meeting to parliament but was going ahead with meetings at his Downing Street office and residence.
Despite the official confidence, Blair’s health blip ignited a wave of “What if'” speculation in media and political circles.
Should he become incapacitated, deputy Prime Minister John Prescott would step in while the ruling Labour Party organises the election of a new leader.
Powerful finance minister Gordon Brown, long believed to be harbouring leadership ambitions, would be the front-runner.
Blair wants to run for a third term in a general election expected in 2005. He may, however, now come under pressure from friends and family to reconsider or at least ease his schedule.
“Is This the End of Blair'” openly speculated one newspaper. Spokesmen and medical experts, however, said such questions were premature as his problem was a small blip, common to many. After feeling dizzy and suffering chest pains yesterday, Blair was rushed to a London hospital, where doctors regulated his heartbeat with electric shock treatment. Blair, who took over the Labour Party when his predecessor John Smith died of a heart attack in 1994, has no history of heart problems.
He is known to be a vitamin-popping fitness enthusiast who plays tennis, uses a private gym in Downing Street, and even joined US President George W. Bush in a gym for a joint workout on a recent trip. His parents though were both dogged by ill-health. His mother died of cancer while Blair was a student, and his father suffered a stroke at 40. Blair has looked stressed and drawn through much of 2003, first as he sold an unpopular war to sceptical Britons, then when critics rounded on him for his office’s role in the outing of the name of scientist David Kelly, who committed suicide.