Now what? - Ann Widdecombe can call the PM and the Pope, but not Westbury Station

If you are PM, even your innermost workings are on public display

I am sure that Westbury in Wiltshire is the most wonderful place to spend half an hour, but not if you are stranded on a train that has arrived at the station yet does not seem inclined to depart. When I found myself in this unhappy position, I tried, after 20 minutes of Christian patience, to find out if anyone knew how long it might be before the expected driver hopped aboard and started up his train. Who more certain to know than the stationmaster? Being sure that Murphy's law would apply if I left the train to find someone, and that it would leave without me, I instead rang Directory Inquiries to ask for the number of Westbury Station. Quite impossible, I was told. All stations are ex-directory.

All stations are ex-directory? I have talked to the Pope, the Queen, the Prime Minister and Mother Teresa, but the stationmaster of Westbury is unavailable. Has anyone else noticed that as public figures yield up ever more of their most intimate details, all other authorities are busy putting up the barriers? Once, you could wander along to the GP's surgery and ask to see him between certain hours, but now you are more likely to be told that you can see him the day after tomorrow. Try to see the headmaster and you will be met with an insistence that you first see the form tutor, then the year head and then the deputy head.

If, however, you are the Prime Minister, then even your innermost workings are on public display. I refer not to what goes on in his office at No 10, but to what goes on in his cardiac valves. It might need Hutton, several million pounds and a paper heap the size of Everest to prise out of the Prime Minister why he took us to war, but when it comes to what the surgeon saw, no holds are barred, no concessions made to the squeamish, and no 30-year rule.

We are told the Prime Minister was "out" during treatment and are invited to be amazed, although he has been out during nearly every parliamentary occasion throughout his premiership. Every indignity of his treatment, from cold water to electric shocks, is pored over and given banner headlines while the government takes credit for its openness. Not a single artery is ex-directory.

The President - sorry, I mean Prime Minister - might just as well have undressed in front of us and invited the cameras in to film the treatment.

It was really the innards of poor old David Blaine over which we were meant to expend so much wonder and vulgar curiosity this week, but the illusionists at No 10 upstaged him, swinging the Prime Minister about in a glass box, telling us we could see all there was to see in the latest saga of personality politics and press intrusion.

I am the last one to defend the dignity of this Prime Minister, particularly when he doesn't seem much exercised about doing so himself. But I cannot be the only person in Britain who thinks that it is a mighty serious business that Tony Blair had a heart problem, not least for his family and especially its youngest member, and that a frank but dignified announcement would have been the best way of dealing with it.

In the meantime, we have watched the Pope, unafraid to put his frailty on display, but making so little of it and getting on with fulfilling his mission. While the world's press gossips and speculates about his successor, the Vatican and the cardinals maintain a lofty silence. They, too, are getting on with their mission and do not find it necessary to indulge the press and fuel rumours. Ah! At last, I have the solution to Iain Duncan Smith's woes: put Cardinal Ratzinger in charge of Central Office.

Lauren Booth is away

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