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Blair's Public Support Low Despite Plans to Step Down

Britain is in the midst of political uncertainty, after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he plans to step down within the next 12 months....but stopped short of endorsing a successor. Even though his Labour Party has won three successive general elections in the United Kingdom, Mr. Blair's personal popularity is at an all-time low -- in large part because of the war in Iraq and his close ties to U.S. President George Bush.

Across London, the talk of the town is of the fall of Tony Blair.

Every morning, radio host Nick Ferrari wakes Londoners up on the capital's news station, LBC. "Hello there, sorry to keep you waiting, what do you want to say about Tony Blair?"

And they call into his program in large numbers, looking forward to a day when Tony Blair's government is a thing of the past:

Ferrari: "Frank's in Chalfont. Go ahead, Frank"
Frank: "We've lost our country generally. That man's not for us. He's not for us at all".
Ferrari: "Carol's in Basildon. Assess the Prime Minister for me, Carol."
Carol:"You know, I can't bear the man. I think he will absolutely be remembered for bringing terror to the shores of England"
Ferrari: "Seems a litany of negatives here…."

A litany of negatives that has not always been heard on the airwaves here.

Tony Blair has - at times - been the most popular Prime Minister in British political history. Next May he will celebrate a decade in power…if he's still in power to mark the occasion.

Rodney Barker is a professor of political science at the London School of Economics provides some historical perspective. "When Tony Blair began his premiership he was seen as young, charismatic, straight-forward, honest. And inclusive. There was a reversal in the public esteem of Tony Blair so that somebody who in 1997 was seen as a young white knight on a white charger is now seen as flashy, insincere, deceptive and a danger to the country".

The main reason behind Tony Blair's demise: the growing unpopularity in Britain of the US-led war in Iraq.

Mr. Blair is accused by his critics of an unquestioning allegiance to the White House - to the detriment, they say, of Britain's interests in the world.

That viewpoint has strengthened the hand of rebels within his own party, and they include the former actress - now Parliamentarian - Glenda Jackson.
"Certainly since the Iraq War in my constituency people have been saying to me, 'I'm a lifelong Labour voter, my family have been lifelong Labour voters. I will never ever vote Labour again while Tony Blair is leader'."

It is an ignominious political end for a man credited by many analysts, including Rodney Barker, with transforming Britain. "Despite the low esteem in which Tony Blair is now held, he is without doubt the most successful leader the Labour Party has ever had. Three general elections in a row; a third successful term in office; a major program of constitutional reform; not a solution, but the best solution we've come up with yet for civil war in Northern Ireland. It is a substantial record".

But it is not a record that many in Britain seem willing to celebrate.

Despite the fact that London today - even in its very skyline - is emblematic of an era known as "Cool Britannia" ushered in by Tony Blair…an era of rising living standards, lower unemployment, better public services and revived national pride….despite all that, the man who helped bring it about is virtually 'persona-non-grata' on the national stage.

Mr. Blair has his defenders - they celebrate not only his record domestically, turning London into a world capital every bit as prosperous - and expensive - as any of its global competitors.

But they also say his alliance with the White House has delivered results, according to John Prideaux who reports British politics for "The Economist".

"They say you have to take the world as it works and the best thing for Britain to do in terms of exercising influence in the world is to stay close to America and to have influence behind the scenes. And they point to dividends from this. In particular, George Bush being the first American President to say he's in favor of a viable Palestinian state, and the other thing they point to is George Bush's willingness to go back to the UN and try to get a second resolution during the run-up to the Iraq War"

It will soon be up to a new leader of the Labour Party to paint the next canvas in Britain's governmental history. That person may well be Gordon Brown, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he wins the Labour Party leadership, he will have up to two-and-a-half years to govern before a general election must be called....and the broader battle to succeed Tony Blair is fought.