Let's see in the silly season with a really silly question - how well do Tony Blair and Cliff Richard actually know each other? I mean, sure, they'll know quite a bit about each other. Easily as much as you and I know about them. But do they ever go for a pint? Call each other for chats? Do they do anything that might constitute a friendship? Anyone who reads tabloids will know the answer to this - nope, they do not. And if you stay in someone's villa for reasons unconnected to friendship, then your motivation is the following: one, it is sunny; two, it is posh; three, it is free.
The Blairs have fallen prey to a misconception. They think if they do something often enough, then it will cease to be news. While true in many cases, this is untrue of ligging. Each fresh scrounge, far from disappearing into the mulch of the time before, actually revivifies what I can only describe as the shame of the last six years. Sponging stinks; sponging on a public stage stinks more; and sponging by a couple on an income of £425k a year, who come September will be pretending to identify with the poor, stinks most of all.
The couple say rather than paying Cliff for his Sugar Hill Estate, they will instead give an equivalent amount to charity. They've tried this stunt before - following their opulent sojourn in Tuscany last year, Blair made a £3,000 donation to a children's hospital. This left a £17,000 shortfall of the amount the holiday would have cost, on the open market, the very kindest explanation for which is that it's so long since Blair put his hands in his own pockets that he can't work out how much things cost ("ah, pillow chocolates, every morning - I estimate tuppence ha'penny, for the family, minus a farthing because Leo didn't eat his..."). Egypt, of course, was handled much better. When Tony and Cherie accepted £5k's worth of hospitality at the kind gift of the Egyptian people (though, since they're not allowed a free vote, it's difficult to tell how much they mean it), a charitable donation was made but - wait for this - they chose not to disclose how much it was for, and who it went to! This crystallises rather well the havoc wreaked on human nature by a surfeit of power. The Blairs can just about remember the ethical grounds for our complaints, but they're buggered if they're going to give in to us. We can take their secret sum (well, someone secret can take it) and like it.
The real rottenness at the core of this isn't really summed up very well by Sir Cliff, but he'll do. In the act of taking a gift from someone, you are thereafter beholden to them. I'm not sure how Cliff would make use of this debt, but I cannot think of a single view of his that I'd like hot-lined to the seat of national power (apart from maybe his fondness for fine wine).