Britons Feeling 'Tired of Tony'

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 16, 2006

LONDON -- Verra Budimlija was once a classic fan of Prime Minister Tony Blair -- she's 40, a well-educated advertising executive, the kind of voter who propelled Blair and the Labor Party to power in 1997.

Not only does she live in Islington, a Labor stronghold where people took to the streets to celebrate Blair's generation-shifting election, she lives in th very brick house that was Blair's at the time.

But now, nine years and two reelections later, Budimlija is suffering from "Tired of Tony," a malady afflicting even once-fanatical supporters as it spreads across Britain like a blanket of fog.

"He has been around too long," Budimlija said. "It seems to me that he has lost touch with the mood of the country, with what people think. He looks tired, worn out, like he has been in the job too long."

Blair fatigue has become the dominant narrative in British politics. The posturing of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Blair's presumed successor-in-waiting, and the look-at-me style of David Cameron, 39, the new Conservative Party leader, are endlessly debated. Scandals come and go; the Iraq war never leaves. Ministers find themselves embarrassed with regularity by their choices of spouse or lover.

But hanging over all of it, like Britain's great gray sky, is a single question:

Is he still here?

"I want to like him. I just can't anymore," said Hannah Lloyd, 35, a lawyer and mother of three, who said she was dazzled by Blair when he rode into office with Britain's biggest margin of victory in a century. Now, she said, sipping coffee in an Islington cafe, the televised face she once found exciting seems "rather smug."

When Blair was elected at the age of 43, the youngest prime minister since 1812, "He walked on water, it was like he could do no wrong," said Ben Page, director of the Ipsos MORI polling firm.

Now his approval ratings have fallen to just over 30 percent. Nearly half of people polled by the London newspaper the Times this month wanted Blair to resign now or by the end of the year. Fifty-seven percent agreed that "Blair had run out of steam and is unlikely to achieve anything else as prime minister."

But when will he go? Blair refuses to say. But he set off speculation even before his election to a third term last May, when he said he did not intend to seek a fourth term. That was widely interpreted as meaning he would step aside before his term ends; British law requires an election by 2010 at the latest. All the uncertainty has fueled debilitating speculation about exactly when he might go.

Ominously for Blair, much of the weariness with him is coming from places such as Islington, the north London neighborhood almost synonymous with Blair and his "New Labor" revolution. It's a mix of fancy Georgian homes from the 18th century and public housing projects.

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