La Digue, a perfect winter break for a new puritan

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair quietly slipped away from his little local difficulties over cuts in benefits yesterday, and took his family to soak up the sunshine in the Marxist paradise of the Seychelles. Jack O'Sullivan and Colin Brown investigate prime ministerial holiday precedents.

Labour prime ministers traditionally like to holiday close to home. To Harold Wilson, abroad meant work, so he opted for the austerity of a bungalow in the Scilly Isles. Clement Attlee visited Pembrokeshire, and the Republic of Ireland when feeling adventurous. And Jim Callaghan generally preferred his Sussex farm.

But not Tony Blair, who yesterday landed en famille in the Seychelles, a Bounty bar paradise in the Indian Ocean.

Churchill, who liked to holiday in the Aegean with Aristotle Onassis, and with Lord Beaverbrook in France, would have sympathised. So would Edward Heath, who won the Sydney to Hobart ocean yacht race in 1969, months before becoming prime minister. And Anthony Eden - frustrated at missing his Malta holiday because of the Suez crisis - would have recognised Mr Blair's need to leave behind all that fuss about single parents and the disabled.

The Prime Minister arrived on the main island of Mahe with wife, mother- in-law and three children, flying on to a smaller island, La Digue. It is said to be like the Channel Island of Sark with sunshine - no cars, only bikes and ox-carts. There, he can sunbathe on Anse Source D'Argent, the most photographed beach in the world, on an island which was the setting for Goodbye Emmanuelle, the soft-porn movie. He can expect temperatures of 30C, but he would be wise to carry an umbrella - the Prime Minister has picked the rainiest season for his holiday.

Discounted club-class air fares for the family party would come to more than pounds 13,000. This would reduce all but the best-off to eating coconuts for the week. But the Blairs will pay the full bill, while the taxpayer picks up the tab for the bodyguards and administration staff, known as the "garden girls".

There will be a few reminders of home on an island that was granted its independence under Labour's last prime minister, James Callaghan. Islanders are passionate, like Mr Blair, about the Queen Mother and her daughter, whose image still graces postage stamps. And Mahe has a Little Ben clock tower.

But the Prime Minister may be less comfortable with France-Albert Rene, President of the Seychelles, and owner of the Blairs' colonial-style plantation house. Mr Blair may wish to avoid an earbending from his landlord, a former Marxist, once backed by East Germany and North Korea, who glories in his hefty state spending on a highly successful health and education system.

Mrs Blair may feel at ease with the Catholicism of the islanders, missionised by the French, who arrived in 1756. There is, however, talk of voodoo surviving among the descendants of African slaves introduced by France.

For Mr Blair, this could hardly be worse than the two rebel Labour MEPs back home who have spent this week sticking pins into their leader.