The Sketch: Finally, as he departs, Blair sees limit of Government

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The Independent Online

Take the money and go. That's my advice to young people thinking of working out four weeks' notice. It's the longest month of your life. The status you've built up collapses. People stop telling you things. There isn't any point in gossiping to you as you've nothing to share (people stop telling you things). Juniors cheek you. And then in the final stages you become invisible in the corridors. It's like a long slow dissolve. One's ghostliness becomes the most obvious thing about you.

It is the Prime Minister's pitiable condition, and those with compassion should look away now. Though soon you won't have to, as you'll look straight through him.

He kept refusing to comment. An increasing range of government business is now beyond his horizon. "You said Gordon Brown had a number of attributes to succeed you as Prime Minister. Would you like to say what they are?"

He replied baldly (increasingly baldly, I fear): "No." He also refused to comment on the possible takeover of the London Stock Exchange by the Americans (that's off limits because Gordon has already given his view on that).

He wouldn't be able to comment on whether the planning system or the NHS should be taken out of political control, as Gordon is suggesting. And most astonishing of all, he has no view about who should win The X-Factor (a popular television programme).

The Tories are right. The Government is in paralysis! Still, it can't last much longer. Three or four months. Five, perhaps. Six at the most. And the less they do, the less harm will be done, perhaps.

That was certainly one of the messages of his introductory chat. He is looking out over the horizon to a Britain of 2050 where pensions will have been reformed thoroughly enough to allow a little more pocket money to the elderly.

The reforms are essential, he says. And he's right, because they wrecked the perfectly good pension arrangements we had in 1997. It's one of the two or three comparisons with General Pinochet in which our leader comes off worse (another is the body count).

And then, the CSA, he admitted with unusual frankness, was so defective it was to be abolished. Fathers didn't want to pay, mothers didn't want to co-operate with the Government, billions had been spent achieving nothing, he told us.

It's a shame that Mr Blair is leaving just when he seems to be realising the limits of central authority.

And it's also a shame to be suffering from the vagueness that comes with invisibility. In his long, slow farewell, he is starting to remind us of Ronald Reagan talking in his sleep: "The problem with Iran is very simple."

And of the Palestinian question: "I think you'll find people are prepared to be quite reasonable about this." And of the violence in Iraq: "This hasn't occurred naturally." Ker-rikey!