The Blairs must be seen to play by the rules

Everyone deserves a summer holiday, particularly the Prime Minister and his family. They should be able to go where they like and do what they like for as long as they like, and expect their privacy to be protected. We may not always agree with how Mr Blair runs the country, but there is absolutely no question about his being up to the job. His time off is well earned.

There is, nonetheless, something unseemly about the way the Blairs seem so readily to accept the patronage of rich friends and acquaintances when they go on holiday. Of course, political leaders require a certain level of security and this restricts their options. And the pursuit of leisure is obviously easier for those, such as the Bushes and the Berlusconis, who have personal wealth and private holiday retreats than it is for those, such as the Blairs, who do not. But with two salaries, both many times above the national average, the Blairs are hardly on the breadline.

They could surely afford a couple of weeks in a top-flight hotel or a secluded seaside estate that does not belong to Silvio Berlusconi or another politician-tycoon. We know that the Blairs meet their own travel costs and donate something to charity in lieu of rent, and accepting the hospitality of rich friends breaks no rules.

When all that has been said, however, the uncomfortable impression remains that certain bounds of propriety have been exceeded, that something is not quite right, not quite decently British, about the Prime Minister accepting lavish private holidays from others.

Mrs Cherie Blair's reported contract to tout for US speaking engagements leaves a similarly sour taste. Again, no rules, written or otherwise, appear to have been broken. But can it be right for someone who is a barrister and part-time court recorder even to consider hiring herself out for large sums of dollars as a public speaker? Is there no risk of any conflict of interest? Equally to the point, would Cherie Booth QC command such generous honorariums if she were married to someone who was not the prime minister? And if she joins the US speaking circuit, can she keep these different roles apart?

These are not inconsequential questions. It may be unfair, but the Prime Minister and his wife should not only play by the rules, but they also need to be seen by their fellow countrymen as so doing. Regrettably, this is not always the case.

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