Tony Blair confirmed he is to take limited paternity leave to help out at home when his wife, Cherie, gives birth to their fourth child. The Prime Minister, whose baby is due on 24 May, plans to cancel public engagements but will be on hand for a few hours of prime ministerial work a day where necessary.
His decision will disappoint campaigners who were hoping that Mr Blair would set an example to expectant fathers by opting for full paternity leave.
And the decision in favour of taking just a short break while being still available to run the country will thwart his deputy, John Prescott or, indeed, any other ambitious members of the Cabinet who might have been hoping to take charge while the Prime Minister stayed at home with his newborn child.
In an interview in today's Observer, Mr Blair made clear: "I don't ever stop being Prime Minister. Even when I am on holiday, I do several hours work a day. But, of course, I want to spend more time with Cherie when the kid is born to help out and I will do that. I don't know if that makes [it] paternity leave ... but it is the common sense of the situation.
"I would be kidding you if I was to say: 'for x-period of time I'm not going to pick up the phone, I'm not going to talk to anyone, if there's a crisis in the country or the world that I'm not going to be interested.'
"That's ridiculous. You can't do that in my job. The important thing is to help Cherie and the baby. I will, obviously, try as much as possible to cut down in that period what I'm doing. But I have to run the country. That still has to go on."
Mrs Blair recently made it clear that she backed the decision of the Finnish Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, who has twice decided to take full paternity leave, in comments which fuelled the hopes of pressure groups keen to see Mr Blair follow his example.
But her husband, who, in conjunction with Mrs Blair, has also decided that there will be no photo or story deals connected with the birth of his child, clearly has other ideas. "We have absolutely no desire to be treated like the royal family," he said.
"We're a very normal family. We're very fortunate that we're a happy family together. What you have got to realise is that I know that at some point I stop doing this job. People are interested in me at the minute but there will still come a point in time when they are not. I will still be father though."
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