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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 09:04 GMT
First 100 days: Tony Blair

Labour enjoyed a 17 point lead over John Major's Conservatives as Tony Blair neared his first 100 days in charge.

TONY BLAIR
Tony Blair
Elected leader: July 1994
Age when elected: 42
Defeated rivals: John Prescott, Margaret Beckett

Even a party conference defeat over scrapping Clause IV of the party's constitution - a battle he would go on to win the following year - and a shadow cabinet election which left many of Labour's old guard in place failed to dent Mr Blair's momentum.

Mr Blair had enjoyed glowing press coverage from the moment he was elected leader - and this showed little sign of abating as he approached the 100 day mark.

"Hands up all those who still think, even now, that Margaret Beckett or John Prescott should have been the new Labour leader," wrote Martin Kettle in The Guardian after the Clause IV defeat.

"It is of course early days. But Blair has proved himself again and again in each of the challenges with which he has been presented," he added.

'Daring'

The Labour leader's question time performances "have been almost awesome in their disciplined effectiveness," Kettle noted.

In promoting propriety, Tony Blair looks to be the right man for these wrong times
Mark Lawson, The Guardian

"Blair has already achieved more than most Labour supporters could have had a right to expect at this stage. Every week he seems to re-write the terms of politics, leaving so-called experts looking silly as they try to reshape their clichéd wisdom in his wake.

"But he has got where he is by daring, not by doing what convention dictates. Labour MPs did not help him this week, but even for Tony Blair, the most dangerous enemy is still caution," wrote Mr Kettle.

The high moral tone of Mr Blair's first party conference speech as leader was lauded by Mark Lawson in the same newspaper.

"In promoting propriety, Tony Blair looks to be the right man for these wrong times," Lawson wrote.

Formidable

But he also warned Mr Blair was "making a big mistake in so openly positioning Labour as a cleaner, nicer team".

"Mr Blair's ethical crusade will be taken by swing voters (sincerely) and newspaper editors (cynically) to include personal sexual morality."

Even normally hostile newspapers conceded the new Labour leader made a formidable opponent.

"Ever since Mr Blair was elected leader in July, the Conservatives have sought to stave off panic at the prospect of his broad electoral appeal," wrote Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph.

"They have argued that we should wait and see how Mr Blair measures up when he enters political combat with Mr Major. Well that combat has begun and Mr Major has a lot to beat."

'Hard'

There was a feeling among commentators that the Conservatives had misjudged and, perhaps, underestimated the new Labour leader.

"He may look soft and cuddly - that is what the electorate is supposed to like these days - but he is as hard as nails," wrote Stephen Glover in the London Evening Standard.

Peter Riddell, writing in The Times, compared Mr Blair to Margaret Thatcher, who also set out to change her party.

"Lady Thatcher had the advantage that Conservatives in the country were on her side. Mr Blair still has to educate and win over his party."

What happened next: Tony Blair went on to become Labour's most successful vote winner - picking up huge majorities in 1997 and 2001 and then a third successive majority in 2005. He is still prime minister but has said he will not contest a fourth election as Labour leader.




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