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Britons Feeling 'Tired of Tony'

A decade ago, the lawyers, tradesmen and teachers here were the engine driving Blair -- a youthful, charismatic and effortlessly articulate Oxford-educated lawyer -- and his fellow reformers past a Conservative Party that had become creaky and, many felt, corrupt after almost 20 years in power.

Now, in interviews along these same streets, many people repeatedly complain that Blair's time has passed.

"A lot of people don't trust him," said John Hulbert, 70, a taxi driver and Labor supporter who lives on Barnsbury Street with his wife, Jean, a retired teacher. "You couldn't walk into a pub and talk about Blair -- they would throw you out."

Analysts point out that time and familiarity are generally unkind to world leaders, no matter what their accomplishments. U.S. presidents historically see their popularity wane in their second terms, including President Bush, whose approval ratings are at all-time lows.

"I don't think I have heard of a leader who remained popular in his last two years in office," Hulbert said. "England got rid of [Winston] Churchill after World War II and he was the greatest thing since sliced bread."

Even many of Blair's critics acknowledge that the British economy has flourished during his years. "He rejuvenated the country and made it more entrepreneurial, creative," Budimlija said. Her three-story house, formerly Blair's, stands on Richmond Crescent, a small street where a Jaguar, a BMW and the vans of renovation contractors are parked in front of houses whose values have jumped to as high as $3 million in the Blair era.

The prime minister has been widely praised for his efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland and Kosovo, and his dedication to eradicating poverty in Africa. Blair has often led Britain by means of the remarkable force of his personality and his talent for articulating issues as few others can.

Ruston Chichgeo, 44, an architect on Richmond Crescent, said Blair has done well by Britain. "Things are going pretty much okay," he said. He doesn't want to see Blair go.

It is Blair's passionate -- some say disastrously stubborn -- leadership on Iraq that is the one issue that continues to weigh him down. There is a widespread perception that the prime minister exaggerated, or even fabricated, the dangers of weapons of mass destruction in taking the country to a war that has no end in sight.

"Iraq is a total disgrace," Budimlija said. "Sadly, it has cast a big black shadow over the closing days of his being prime minister."

Blair has vigorously defended Britain's troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as a noble struggle to sow democracy. In a speech in Australia three weeks ago, he said: "I know the Iraq war split this nation as it did mine. And I have never disrespected those who disagreed with me over it."

His cozy relationship with Bush, who is extremely unpopular here, is seen by many as detrimental to British interests. Perhaps as a nod to that, Blair recently said: "I do not always agree with the U.S. Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have."


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