I suppose you have to go back to Winston Churchill to find a Prime Minister of the UK who has had anything like the "long goodbye" that Tony Blair is having. So, to a certain extent, Blair is writing the manual for retiring PMs.
One feels slightly nauseous watching his recent tours around the globe. It is very difficult to see where valid representation of the country ends and the advance book tour begins. It is hard not to conclude that the publisher of Blair's future books, or his speaking agent, should be paying part of his tour expenses.
Richard Littlejohn, with typical colour, has called Blair's tour a "carnival of vanity".
I have tended to shrug off all this. But I am little nervous about the timing of Blair's trip to see the Pope. It will be on June 23rd, four days before Blair stands down as PM. That's according to Reuters, although it is denied by Downing Street.
Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of things Blair ought to be discussing with the Pope. A confession over his stupidity and arrogance on Iraq would be an excellent start. The Guardian quotes Freddy Gray, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald listing some of the topics they might cover:
I expect they will talk again about foreign affairs - notably the plight of Christians in Iraq and, perhaps, the issue of what is widely called 'aggressive secularism' in British society and governance, an issue that came to the fore recently in the row over Cateholic adoption agencies.
However, I am very curious about the timing of the Papal audience. By its lateness in Blair's premiership, it is being given very high priority. Quite rightly so, but one cannot help concluding that the priorities of Blair the private person are overly influencing the schedule of Blair the Prime Minister.
I feel quite queasy about this. Number Ten bats away rumours of a Prime Ministerial deathbed Catholic conversion and appointment of Blair as Deaconess of Detroit (sorry - Deacon - my Monty Python obsession overtook me there) as "a private matter". Indeed they are. But it is hard not to conclude that Blair is allowing private considerations to unduly influence his use of taxpayers money to fly to Rome at this time.
You could say he has "saved the trip up" but I just think it seems pointless for the Pope to be speaking to someone who has just three days left in charge. The Pope will in effect, be talking to a very well known after-dinner speaker and odd job ex-statesman.
Fine. But why should the taxpayers pay for it?