20 - Culture and attitudes  pp. 436-467

Culture and attitudes

By Ben Page

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After a decade in power most politicians' popularity is in decline. Tony Blair's was no exception. However, focusing only on the popular and media mood towards the end of his term in office risks missing the wood for the trees. We should look back at the man and his standing with the British public with respect – at least in the period 1994–2002. Ratings of Blair's performance in Opposition were virtually unprecedented in polling history. Compare his performance as Leader of the Opposition with the four Conservatives, including David Cameron, who followed him in this role (Figure 20.1).

From the time he assumed leadership of the Labour Party, Blair's personal rating was one of the highest recorded. And after he became Prime Minister, he was the most popular Prime Minister recorded in the post-war period, with his ratings exceeding those of Mrs Thatcher for a considerable period of tenure (Figure 20.2).

By 1999 his historically high level of approval was in decline and apart from a boost at the time of terrorist attacks and the early days of the Iraq War, it drifted downwards. In October 1997 just 6% thought Blair was out of touch with ordinary people; by the time he announced his resignation 51% thought so. But in those first two years in office he was far more popular than Mrs Thatcher was whose reputation and indeed premiership, ironically, was saved only by a war.