In the early hours after Princess Diana’s death, an emotional Prime Minister Tony Blair stood before a clutch of microphones and spoke of the country’s great loss.
It was then he uttered the phrase that perfectly caught the nation’s mood: He eulogized Diana as “the people’s princess.”
Such unerring instincts, so glaringly absent in the royal family during Britain’s weeks of grief, are a major reason Blair’s popularity has soared in poll after poll, with an estimated three-quarters of the public now approving of his performance.
Since taking office May 2 in a landslide election, his honeymoon has been so prolonged that The Times of London ran a front-page cartoon this week that showed a pollster asking “Do you think Tony Blair is a) terrific; b) wonderful; c) sensational?”
“Rarely in recent history has a political leader amassed such goodwill so quickly,” former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote in Sunday’s Observer.
How long can the honeymoon last?
Blair himself warns of overconfidence, especially since his government has done little of the heavy lifting it has promised.
In power for the first time since 1979, the Labor Party has used its first five months to mend Britain’s previously frayed relations with Europe and win referendums in Scotland and Wales on Blair’s plans to decentralize power from London.
But otherwise, it has merely initiated dozens of policy reviews, which in time will produce recommendations - and, in some cases, controversy.
“Tough decisions lie ahead on modernizing the welfare state. It will not always be easy. It cannot always be popular,” Blair said at the close of this week’s annual party conference.
At the same gathering, however, he vowed to keep building what he calls “a new, modern Britain.”
“Give just as much to our country as we intend to give,” he told a national television audience in the touchy-feely language he so often employs. “Give your all. Make this the giving age.”
Those would be unlikely words from any of the prime minister’s predecessors. But then, Blair, 44, is not your traditional British leader. Think “new.” Think “modern.”
His winning campaign - with its rock theme song promising that “things can only get better” - showed a mastery of modern techniques, American-style, as did his casual stroll to Downing Street upon taking office.
His style of governing, many have noted, is decidedly presidential, transcending the boundaries of his party.
An opinion poll published Thursday said three out of four Britons approved of Blair’s performance since he became prime minister. By contrast, Margaret Thatcher, who governed Britain for 11 years, never topped 59 percent - which she hit only briefly, at the close of the Falklands War in 1982.