THERE are many outside the great and the good of the Labour Party who believe Britain may have found a striking new political figurehead in Tony Blair. They believe that in a little more than two years, the charismatic 41-year-old whose eager smile is God's gift to a telegenic age, will lead Labour back from 15 years in the political wilderness and emerge as Britain's youngest prime minister this century. And if it happens, he will be in 10 Downing Street at the time of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. Such dreams may of course be premature. There are plenty in the Labour Party and the unions who both dislike and distrust Mr Blair's determination to rid the party of its cap and coal-dust image. There is also the whole machinery of the Conservative Party which, for the next two years, will seek nothing but his political destruction to remain in power. Yet there is no doubt that Mr Blair's vision of modern social democracy, dedicated to his ''mission of national revival'' is a powerful magnet to a British middle class disenchanted with a tired and accident-prone Tory administration. His passionate pledge not to rest ''until the destiny of our people and our party are joined together in victory at the next election'' finds a willing audience across the country. ''Here at last is a leader who does not have one eye permanently fixed on the rear-view mirror,'' said one fan. While the new Labour leader has been concentrating on his vision for a new Britain, he has also taken time - albeit briefly - to consider Hong Kong's future. Earlier this month, he reinforced the point that any government he leads will hold the same stance on the territory as the present ruling Conservatives. His views on the existing post-1997 guarantees were also the same, he said. ''We would want to hold the Chinese Government to those guarantees, they are important for the people of Hong Kong,'' he added. The Labour Party had already raised the issue of the potential statelessness of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities with the British Government, said Mr Blair, who added that he knew the territory well. But he has done more than demonstrate a strong flair for wide-ranging political awareness. For to cap everything else, there is Mr Blair's infuriating niceness. And there was hardly a murmur of surprise when Jeremy Hanley, the new Tory party chairman congratulated him on his success, saying he was an awfully pleasant fellow. Yet there is also something terribly familiar about the meteoric career of Tony Blair. Born of a modest family in Durham (his father, Leo, had been fostered by a Scottish shipyard rigger) young Tony went to Durham Choristers, the local cathedral school and won a scholarship to Fettes College, one of Scotland's top public schools. From there he won his way to Oxford. At university, he scorned politics but was something of a character in his own right - a keen party-goer, a natty and unpredictable dresser and the author of scripts for his college's comedy theatre group, the St John's Mummers. He took a law degree and married an attractive fellow barrister, Cherie Booth, who shared both his politics and the very deep Christian convictions which still motivate much of his public life. Today their three children attend the local Catholic school in Islington. It will not need too knowledgeable a student of Government House to see some striking parallels with Chris Patten. Nor do the similarities end there. Mr Patten, the ambitious young intellectual of his Tory generation, made his mark as a radical at a time when the party was moving steadily to the right under Margaret Thatcher (her memoir records that she saw him as ''a man of the left''). Mr Blair cut his teeth as the new intellectual darling of Labour at a time when the union baronies he was determined to defeat still dictated official ideology. Each man delights in wooing his constituency. Just as Mr Patten has largely rejected the Governor's official regalia for an open neck shirt and blazer, so Mr Blair turns his back on London society and in Who's Who lists his club as Trimdon Colliery and Deaf Hill Working Mens. At this establishment in the heart of Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency in northeast England, amidst the darts, dominoes and bingo, suggestions that he is anything less than a committed member are rejected. ''He's here every week. He's up at the constituency and joins us for a pint at the bar,'' says secretary Frank Jell. ''We talk about what everyone is on about - football and girls.'' The affinity between Mr Patten and Mr Blair is clearly recognised by the Governor himself, though there is no suggestion they are personal friends outside the parliamentary circle. MUCH earlier this year, well before the leadership was anything more than a glint in Mr Blair's eye, Mr Patten was plainly aware of the nature of the emerging threat. Talking to his friend Martin Jacques, the former editor of Marxism Today, Mr Patten stressed his concern over the emergence in Britain of an underclass and the dangers the Tories were running in ignoring it. ''I am fascinated that what should be a natural issue for left politicians has not been addressed by them for fear of repelling the sympathies of the middle class'' he said. ''In these circumstances, if the Conservative Party doesn't address the problem, nobody is going to. I find myself in complete agreement with somebody like Tony Blair and his stress on social cohesion and community values.'' More recently, the Blair theme recurred in Government House where another interviewer wrote of Mr Patten's concern that the Tory party was reaching a crossroads and that he could well understand the appeal of Mr Blair and Gordon Brown. ''A party that attracts people of that calibre has to be taken seriously'' he said, adding that Mr Blair's favourite concept of ''community'' should be a Tory theme. ''It's our tune and we can whistle it much better than they can.'' Such comments are likely to attract increasing attention in London where privately, Tory party leaders accept that they are unsure how to tackle the challenge from the left's wunderkind and that even restoring the economy and cutting taxes may not be enough to counter the growing pre-occupation with a society seen by many as increasingly lacking either justice or equality. The notion that Mr Patten may have the antidote will inevitably strengthen the recurring debate over when or whether he should be recalled to London. It is probably, in any event, too late. The Tory party is growing away from Mr Patten just as Labour is moving steadily closer to Mr Blair's perception of Britain's future. Mr Patten will say that that only proves his favourite adage that all political careers end in failure. But privately as he ruminates on the irony of this political drama, he may reflect that while Mr Blair was always a committed socialist, he was once politically ambivalent. Mr Patten's Balliol friends say that when he decided, 10 years ahead of Mr Blair, to give politics a go, he wrote to both the Conservatives and Labour. When the Tories answered first, he took his job at Smith Square. Should he, with hindsight, have waited for Labour's reply?