Find this man a job!
Nearly half of Britain's voters think Tony Blair will no longer be PM by the end of 2004. But what c
Age: 50. Health: subject to mysterious and incapacitating ailments. Performance in previous employment: showed early promise, but subsequently disappointed. Reason for leaving: lost the confidence of colleagues; or, perhaps, just got pissed off. Character: ambitious and hard-working, but considered untrustworthy. Experience: politics, mainly. Referees: P Mandelson, G Bush.
Not a great spec to take to the Jobcentre, is it? But not that unusual either, in some respects. Tony Blair is far from being the only man of his age to discover that his work has suddenly turned sour on him. The job just isn't fun any more, and, frankly, it's proving rather more tiring than it used to. Nobody seems to appreciate you any longer. They even have the nerve to tell you you're underperforming, after you've given them everything that you've got. On top of all that, a one-time chum is trying to grab your slot. Sod the lot of 'em.
In Blair's case, this syndrome seems about to provoke an unnecessary vote of confidence over tuition fees, or perhaps a terminal fit of pique if Lord Hutton cuts up rough. MPs and newspaper columnists speculate endlessly about whether Blair can survive 2004 and, according to a Guardian/ICM poll, 46 per cent of voters expect the PM to be out of Downing Street by next Christmas.
But getting out is the easy bit. After that, where do you turn? In Blair's "young Britain", the workplace is unwelcoming to the over-fifties. Many of them find that when they either jack in, or are slung out of, the job that's consumed their best years, the game is pretty much up. Might as well claim a bad back or depression, and wangle your way on to incapacity benefit. One in three people over 50 has no full-time job.
Surely it must be different for former world leaders? Well, what has Major, Thatcher, Callaghan or Heath managed to come up with? Blair is said to dread the fate of his mate Bill Clinton, arguably the most skilful politician of his era but now reduced to opening shopping malls and cheerleading for a pushy wife. Still, perhaps these characters forgot to plan an exit strategy. And everyone knows that Blair has this one sorted. He's going to be president of Europe, isn't he? Why else would he have tried so hard to drag us into the euro?
Unfortunately, this is a post that doesn't actually exist. It is enshrined in the EU constitution that fell apart so spectacularly at the pre-Christmas summit in Brussels. Few now expect Humpty-Dumpty to be put back together again before at least 2005, which would mean no appointment before 2007. And even if our man could wait that long, would he actually get the job?
The problem isn't so much the euro: Europe's power-brokers accept that on this, Blair did what he could. They could even have lived with his posture over Iraq. What they cannot forgive is the way he arrived at it. "He talked to Bush but then just told Europe what he'd decided," says Jacki Davis, editor-in-chief of the Euromagazine E!Sharp. "The resulting resentment hasn't gone away."
The presidency of the EU's civil service, the Commission, will be available when Romano Prodi leaves in November. Yet even this consolation prize looks out of reach. The current front- runner is a former Finnish prime minister, Paavo Lipponen. Now that the national governments have reasserted their power, they want a dreary technocrat for the job, not a broad-brush, high-profile superstar like our PM. And he needs to come from an obscure country, so that the big boys' noses aren't put out of joint. "It's no longer Tony's time in Europe," says Davis.
What then of the wider world? The former Irish president Mary Robinson snaffled a posh number with the United Nations and the former Tory party chairman Chris Patten secured grand job after job, while Paddy Ashdown has found himself a whole country to run. For Blair, however, after Iraq, the UN is obviously out. The World Bank has to be run by an American. The International Monetary Fund can have a European boss, but generally requires someone with more of a head for figures than Tony is thought to possess.
A charity, perhaps? This man really cares about Africa. Oxfam might take him, apparently, but he would have to provide a rather substantial dowry. "If he doubled the aid budget, we'd consider him," says the director of policy, Justin Forsyth.
Surely the world of business will have something to offer. After all that sucking up, isn't it payback time? A couple of years ago, BP found a jammy, £200,000 slot for the Blair henchperson Anji Hunter. Could it now do something similar for her former boss? Regrettably, it doesn't seem over-keen. "I'm sure the Prime Minister would be too big for us," said a company spokesman diplomatically.
Doubtless, Blair will collect the odd directorship. However, these days non-execs are expected to do rather more than lend their prestigious names to the company letterhead. The No 10 management style uncovered by Lord Hutton, with its casually unminuted encounters on sofas, may not have enhanced our hero's boardroom prospects.
Still, does an ex-prime minister actually need a proper job? Surely, he has only to get the book deal right. Blair is well placed to do that. Ken Follett, the successful thriller writer who was once the PM's top literary crony, says: "My own guess is that he should pick up £1m. Maybe more." Not bad, eh? And as a mega-celebrity author, you are not expected, or even allowed, to pound the keyboard yourself. A team of crack archivists and wordsmiths gets to work on your behalf.
Even so, there is a downside. The £1m turns out to cover not just the book, but also all related rights. Your publisher will aim to reclaim from a newspaper serialisation at least half of what he pays you. Sadly, the bland self- justification you probably had in mind will be of no use to the papers. Your contract will specify the dirt you have to dish. So, on publication, expect to kiss goodbye to most of your friends.
The contract will also commit you to a punishing publicity schedule that will take a year out of your life. You may think nothing could be nicer than sitting in Waterstone's signing copies for admiring fans. But you are no longer the prime minister: you're now hawking wares to the paying public, and are going to be treated accordingly. Mums will look on with amusement as their sticky-fingered children poke you in the face to see if you're real.
The TV tie-in may not be what you hoped for, either. Your publisher will probably fancy the glossy production values and big publicity clout that only the BBC will provide. Unfortunately, the corporation's conception of balance may not match yours. Your direst enemies will probably be invited to analyse in depth what you thought were your proudest achievements. Premium Publishing's Cresta Norris used to handle TV rights for HarperCollins. Her advice? "Pray that you get turned over to Tonight With Trevor McDonald. If necessary, offer to cry on air."
Speaking engagements should prove lucrative, at least at first. In the immediate aftermath of his redundancy, John Major was reputed to have picked up £40,000 for a night's work. But people paying that kind of money expect to be entertained accordingly. If you're not at least as witty as Rory Bremner, bookings will fall away as your novelty value wanes.
Still, Blair has got a trade to fall back on. If things get really bad, could he return to the Bar? Not according to leading defence counsel Jill Evans. "He's been out of the loop too long," she says. "Judges wouldn't be impressed by either his knowledge or his expertise." Apparently, even in his heyday, our Tony wasn't much cop in the courts. Solicitors considered him none too bright and, unlike Cherie, lacking in the killer instinct.
Since things were beginning to look so bleak, I thought I'd better turn to the professionals. And at Taylor:Bennett, one of the world's top headhunting outfits, I unexpectedly struck gold. "Blair should be a headhunter himself," said Heather McGregor, one of its directors. "He's got just what you need: loads of discretion, lots of contacts, crisis management skills. We'll give him a job here." Unfortunately, Tony's starting pay as a trainee at Taylor:Bennett would amount to no more than £50,000 plus bonuses.
To cope with what seems to be lying ahead, perhaps Blair should already be seeking outplacement therapy. Dulce Merritt, an executive coach and therapist, says: "It's a good idea when the next step isn't obvious. Around six meetings should be enough to establish what job you can do and how you can hope to get it. I think Blair would be good at visioning in this way. Of course, you do have to distinguish between a fantasy wish-list and realistic options."
Hmm. Perhaps Blair needs another kind of message. Should Cherie be telling him what so many other fiftysomething, fed-up and undervalued workers hear from the wife every night? Grit your teeth and hang on like grim death to the job you've got for as long as you possibly can. However wretched your life may seem, things would be even worse in the cold world outside.