Tony & Cherie's American Dream ; the Future Former PM Needs a New Job. Wel, Helo California! with Their Pounds 200,000 Mortgage and His Pounds 87,000 Pension, the Blairs Have Their Future to Think of. and in the Land of Opportunity, from Pebble Beach to Bohemia Grove, the Movers Are Just a Handshake Away. by Francis Elliott
Elliott, Francis, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The limousines were valet-parked, the cocktails iced, the canaps made ready' in an elegant residence overlooking San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, the power elite of west coast America awaited the guest of honour.
Tony Blair was expected to arrive at the $4m home of George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, shortly before 8pm last night for a gathering of Californian power and influence.
The guest list included Phil Bronstein, media magnate and former husband of Sharon Stone, Charles Schwab, the mega-rich owner of the eponymous brokers' firm, plus assorted big-hitting politicians, Silicon Valley moguls and biotech billionaires.
Meanwhile, down the coast in Los Angeles, Mr Blair's first tentative step on to the lecture circuit had the organisers cooing over a sell-out event.
When Mr Blair addresses 2,000 people over lunch at the Bonaventure Hotel, he will know they each paid $80 (pounds 43) for the privilege. The cash is to cover costs, say organisers. Mr Blair is not being paid - this time.
As the Monterey County Hotel recorded last week: "In a city where celebrity is taken for granted, one of the hottest tickets in town is for a politician."
Downing Street claims that Mr Blair's trip to California - the first by a serving Prime Minister - is to promote Britain's interests in a state that counts as one of the world's largest economies in its own right.
And indeed his itinerary takes in meetings with many firms competing with British innovators in fields such as stem-cell research and computing. But there is another - half-hidden -agenda to Mr Blair's end-of-term jaunt: the pursuit by both the high- flying Blairs of a job after Downing Street.
For the next few days Mr Blair will be meeting some of the big players in a country that adores him. Players such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California. For a leader no longer much loved on his own domestic battlefield, the sunshine state must feel like a political Valhalla.
"This is about Blair networking among some of the richest, most powerful people in the world so that he can either tap them up for directorships or get them to donate to a 'Blair Foundation' in the future," says a former minister who has accompanied the Prime Minister on previous US trips.
Mr Blair's plans for the future are beginning to form, say friends, who predict that there will, indeed, be some sort of charitable foundation in his name. The institution, almost certainly based in London, will promote those causes most close to his heart, they say. (It may not be an accident that Mr Blair is expected to meet senior Microsoft executives in the coming days - Bill Gates has led the way in pioneering a new form of global philanthropy.)
Although Mr Blair provoked speculation that he was hoping to become a future UN secretary general with remarks about the need to give that post more powers, close observers say it is wide of the mark. It is, indeed, hard to see how such a controversial figure could act as the world's most senior peace-maker. Heading a new body that merged the IMF and World Bank might be more plausible, were it not for the Prime Minister's weak grasp of detailed economic theory.
More prosaically, the Blairs need money. With allowances, his current income amounts to around pounds 277,000. Once he leaves the Commons - and no one expects him to stand as an MP at the next election - he is entitled to an office allowance of up to pounds 87,000 plus a decent pension.
But the Blairs' famously poor choice of property investments has saddled the family with an annual mortgage bill of around pounds 200,000. The new house in Connaught Square is alone mortgaged to the tune of pounds 3.5m.
When one adds such incidentals as the pounds 18,000-a-year cost of childcare and helping the Blairs' older children through university, the urgency for cash becomes abundantly obvious. …