Leaving No 10

February 4th, 2007

John Harris contemplates a question only a very few people have to face: What is it like to be a former prime minister?

What is it to see out those last days and hours at Number 10 and then re-enter the world as an ex-prime minister? As Tony Blair considers his imminent life-change, the experience of the PM to whom he is most often compared will surely be preying on his mind. Like Thatcher, he will be a high-earning draw on the US lecture circuit. Just as she set up an organisation to continue her work after Downing Street, so a Blair Foundation is reportedly on its way. He is almost certain to develop the Thatcher-esque habit of interventions that will irritate and confound the premiers who succeed him. But at the centre of his life, after 10 years of power, there will be a painful predicament: the condition, to quote one of Thatcher's biographers, of a "workless workaholic".

Harris paints a pretty depressing picture of life after Number 10; nobody seems to enjoy their post-premiership life, whether because of the advancing effects of old age or because of bitterness about being ejected from office. In a strange way, I think Edward Heath did best; he may have indulged in the longest sulk in history, but he did remain an active politician longer than any other post-war prime minister. The fact that he had interests outside politics must have been a big help, I'd imagine.

I think Blair's position is going to be quite a bit different to that of his recent predecessors, just because he'll still be relatively young when he leaves office. He could easily have a decade or two to establish a new role for himself in public life if he so desired, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him retreat completely from public life, John Major-style.

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2 Responses to “Leaving No 10”

  1. stevev Says:

    maybe the "long drop" would be a more humane fate?

  2. John Says:

    Let's not go there. I think term limits would be a more humane approach: let them go into the top job knowing they wouldn't get to serve more than, say, two five-year terms of office no matter what.