Leader: Mr Blair's first 100 days: we like what we see

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair himself was never that keen on the idea of the "Hundred Days". That sort of thing usually ends in tears, he said, when he stressed that he was not promising the Earth, and that making a difference would take time. That was before the election, of course, and now looks like a clever feint so that we would be the more surprised by the energy and pace of the Government's debut.

But he also said that "the project" would not become clear to people "until you are in government and you're doing things". In opposition, he only ever gave us an anti-ideology. He was against dogma; a shirt- sleeved manager with common-sense, pragmatic views. And so it came to pass in government. Equally, in opposition he never gave us his character. He adjusted his message instinctively for different audiences, not pretending to be things he was not, but never revealing quirks or prejudices that might offend. The voters had no objection to what they knew of him, but now they know him better, and it should be easier to disentangle his personality from the various personae constructed for him. So what do Mr Blair's first 100 days tell us about the character of the man?

On the first day of the new dawn there was a carefully orchestrated photo- opportunity in Downing Street which one Labour official with an ironic sense of history said was supposed to look like a "spontaneous outpouring of workers from factories and offices". The portrayal of Everyman with his stylish wife and attractive children amid a sea of Union Jacks was propaganda, but it was also true to the man. Despite the unconvincing tone of Mr Blair's self-deprecatory jokes about not recognising himself as Prime Minister, there is something resolutely unstatesmanlike about him. Much of his first few weeks in office were spent abroad, feted as, if not the great young hope for the world, the brightest prospect for managerial centrism (with a social conscience) since Kennedy. But television footage of him on a bicycle or running from one meeting to the next at the Amsterdam summit did not convert into a largeness of stature. This is not a fault, however, but a strength. Mr Blair cannot be a larger-than- life personality because he does not have the self-blindness of a Thatcher, or a Kohl, or a Kennedy. The "people who live in the dark" may want to present him as a conviction politician in the Thatcher mould, but ultimately they cannot do it because that is not what he wants to be.

Instead, Mr Blair is supremely good at epitomising what we would like to be as a nation. When he does his "I am one of you" routines (closely modelled, one suspects, on Clinton's "I feel your pain"), what he really seems to be saying is: "Don't you want to be one of me?" And, on the whole, we do. An overwhelming majority of the nation would like to be smart but casual and drive a Ford Galaxy full of football- and Spice-Girl-mad children. And have the exciting job and the high-powered (and attractive) spouse. Everyone in Britain aspires to be informal middle class - even toffs and royalty - with all three members of Prince Charles's crowded marriage falling over each other in their rush to kick a football around the Chequers lawn.

There is something else, too, that we have learnt of Mr Blair's modesty since 1 May. He has been accused of being autocratic, while beginning a programme of democratic power-sharing more radical than anything since the Civil War. What his critics have failed to see is that 10 Downing Street may be at the centre of a tightly controlled web in matters of presentation, but the initiative for policy has genuinely been devolved to departments, especially the devolution from Downing Street to Mr Blair's closest political ally, Gordon Brown. David Blunkett astutely recognised the importance of this point, flooding the Chancellor with memos. Mr Brown is firmly in the driving seat when it comes to the domestic policy decisions that matter: independence for the Bank of England, the "welfare-to-work" programme, billions from the reserves for education. The one big decision directly attributed to the Prime Minister was heavily presentational - the go-ahead for the Millennium Dome - which is why the job then passed on to Mr Blair's other closest political ally, Peter Mandelson.

It is clearer than ever that policy will be looked at regardless of where it comes from. In his eagerness to bring in business leaders, Mr Blair has tripped up on the sleaze issue, simply because it never occurred to him that he would be judged by the same standards as the outgoing government. But in the longer term, the significance of Lord Simon's appointment is as a token of Mr Blair's pluralism. He has brought in Liberal Democrats and given free rein to Labour figures such as Frank Field and Stephen Byers, whose views most jangle ancient inner-party nerves.

And proposals will be tested against pragmatic criteria - and, above all, market-tested with focus groups and opinion polls. Mr Blair would no doubt protest that policies will also be judged against "values", but this is perhaps the largest area of outstanding doubt. So far, what is striking about his values is how unspecific and consensual they are. Neither the values nor the character of Mr Blair have been tested by crisis - partly because this Labour Government unexpectedly faced a sterling appreciation crisis, rather than devaluation, on coming to office. Until something does go seriously wrong, all judgements are bound to remain heavily provisional.

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