The real reason the Prime Minister stayed on holiday

Cherie's lifestyle guru told him he could concentrate his effort better out there among the Pyramids
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The Independent Online

Hasn't it been fascinating, the way governments are desperate not to appear to be giving less than the amounts raised spontaneously? Every day a spokesman from Britain or America or Germany makes an announcement such as, "Ah. Now - just to clear things up, when I said on Wednesday that we were giving £2m, obviously that was just the initial cash deposit. I'm sure you didn't think that was the whole lot, goodness no, that was just a sort of stocking present, to pay for a few mops and things. Anyway, here's another load of money, and whatever you might say about this amount the important thing to remember is - it's more than they're getting off the French."

Almost as strange is Tony Blair's reasoning for not coming back early from Egypt, that in the modern world you can be an effective full-time Prime Minister while away on holiday. But if he resumed his full-time duties, what was the point in staying away?

Was he on the phone to Prescott while doing a conga round the Holiday Inn during a dinner-and-dance, yelling, "Hey John, what's the latest from that fishing village in Sri Lanka? Oh hang on, my felafel-in-a-basket's just arrived..."? Was Cherie explaining to the kids "I know it's a nuisance but as soon as Daddy's worked out how much the treasury should pledge to Indonesia he'll join in with Swingball?" Maybe there's a problem with his contract, and he was making sure that if he interrupted his holiday he'd get three days in lieu plus one extra for working on a bank holiday.

Whatever the reason, he's now got to put up with the added disaster that Gordon Brown is reported to have "upstaged" him by freezing the affected country's debts. Blair will have to respond, so he might announce a sponsored skydive, or have his head shaved for the appeal.

There have been suggestions that his slow reaction is a sign he's losing interest in the job. Perhaps this will become clearer in the coming months, and we'll get statements such as, "I can't make it for the summit with Ariel Sharon this morning as I'm having a settee delivered. I'd have liked to have been there but I've been waiting three weeks and this is the only morning they can do."

But there may be another reason. The Blair team must be aware that a large chunk of the country has already made up their mind what they think of him, as a result of the war. Following the weapons of mass destruction and the missiles that could be launched in 45 minutes and so on, millions would be cynical about his actions whatever he did. It's as if Jeffrey Archer and the cheating major from Who Wants to be a Millionaire announced they were starting up their own disaster fund. Anyone with any sense would think, "What's the scam here?"

The Blair camp must sense that the old tricks would no longer work. Otherwise he'd have been straight onto a lawn with a camera, reworking the Diana speech wit a heartfelt "These were the people's fishing villages, they were the Sri Lankans of hearts."

Instead he's kept a distance, but it's nice to see that some have been more eager to share how much they care. Yesterday the Daily Mail announced, "The business giants just keep on giving." One example they give is "Debenhams offered to help by allowing customers to make donations at their tills." They're falling over themselves with generosity aren't they? Next they'll be so overflowing with philanthropy they'll make adverts that go "Hurry hurry hurry down to Debenhams, where we'll allow you to buy huge rolls of carpet and send the whole lot off to Indonesia to replace their old stuff which must e ruined. Or we'll let you buy a set of crystal glasses and send them off! We must be crazy."

Starbucks have proudly donated, having taken an interest in Indonesia before, paying coffee farmers fourpence for coffee they sell at £2.50, giving their company a market value of $15bn. And Coca-Cola have sent a few bob, so it would be ironic if their contribution went to Kerala in southern India, which hosts a Coke plant that uses so much water it's created an ongoing drought. Perhaps, in a fit of benevolence, Coke will announce they're planning to build another plant, kindly hoping the droughts cancel out the flooding, leaving the whole place to flourish.

Among the donors to the devastated area of Aceh is Exxon Mobil, a major backer of the Indonesian government, which is even now continuing its war against the independence movement in this area. No wonder these companies are sickened by the disaster - they're thinking, "devastating the local population is our job. That tsunami needs to learn about demarcation."

And the generous US government, however much it pledges, is unlikely to match its annual military budget of $420bn. Blair could counter the cynicism that follows him by complaining about that. Or at least he could show a touch of imagination, and say, "The reason I didn't come back from Egypt was that Cherie's life guru assured me I could concentrate my efforts far better out there, with all that positive spiritual energy bouncing off the pyramids."

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