New Kid on the Block

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Dear Leo,

Welcome to Downing St., the second-most-famous address in the world after 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When George Downing built the place in 1680 it was as a speculative investment, and nobody wanted to live there until George II bought it to give to Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister. He didn't like the house enough to take it for himself and would accept it only for his office and his successors.

Which is why you're there. Apart from the occasional I.R.A. mortar, it's a cozy, secure place to live, just a few rooms above the store, really. In the coming years, either President Gore or President Bush, plus sundry other statespersons and tyrants, will arrive to dandle you on their knees providing a rare example of a politician offering his own baby for others to kiss. You will forget these grisly events, though you'll be hideously embarrassed when Mother gets out the photos to show her friends.

You're also fortunate that when you reach 11, roughly the age at which everything about every father his pathetic attempts to play football, the way he misuses teenage slang, even his dorky haircut is the cause of terminal stress to his offspring, he's unlikely to still be Prime Minister, so these horrors won't be seen by your friends on TV.

You may have noticed the old man looks pretty tired (though mentally sharp enough to choose exactly the right soft blue denim shirt for the baby photos by the daughter of a Beatle, no less and to just happen to select that coffee mug with the family pictured on it). Oddly enough, though, his weariness isn't your fault. Some of us were surprised when he decided to take two weeks' paternity leave, as most heads of government have an inbuilt conviction that their country cannot survive without their constant attention. But life has been tough for your dad lately. He swept to power in 1997 on a wave of anger against a Conservative government which seemed divided, incompetent, sleazy and dogma-bound. He and his colleagues genuinely thought that energy, honesty and flair would make everything all right. They promised to sort out the principal problems within a year.

Fat chance. Life has proved far more complicated. Northern Ireland, relations with Europe, the near-collapse of Britain's manufacturing industry thanks to the overvalued pound, a Health Service which still performs miracles but which at times seems on the verge of implosion, education, crime, plummeting farm prices, the Kosovo war and its aftermath ... The list never gets any shorter. And now and again, as your doting father smiles down at you, the thought must creep into his mind: What in the name of heaven are we doing sending our troops into Sierra Leone?

Don't feel bad about all this, Leo. Changing diapers, being up half the night rocking you to sleep (a chance to catch up on pro-am tractor pulling on cable TV) and generally behaving like a New Dad are welcome distractions from the thousands of problems which just won't go away.

None of this needs concern you. You've been born into a close, loving family; you will get an education as good as any available in the world, and you'll only need to catch a cold for the finest doctors to have their thermometers in your mouth. You'll always be fed. Like most kids in the developed world, the problem for you is going to be time: with the Internet, dozens of cable TV channels, games consoles, Pokemon cards, sports activities, all demanding your attention. How will you fit it all in?

I think you'll be living in Downing St. for quite some time. Sure there are problems, and one of the first things your Dad discovered was that good intentions aren't enough. He can't personally rescue the Millennium Dome, or make Milosevic resign, or stop undereducated, underclass kids terrorizing the homes of the poor. And as global forces increasingly run our lives, there's not much politicians can do about them, though they still get the blame when jobs are lost or prices rise. However, round about the time your eldest brother was born, your dad discovered what Bill Clinton already knew instinctively: voters don't much care for politicians, and prefer them to act as though they weren't in the trade at all. That's why your dad always seems so relaxed, so friendly, so affably above the tar pits where other politicians wrestle. But, contrary to this image, your dad is one of the toughest political in-fighters there is, and though he never loses his temper on TV, it doesn't mean that he can't with ministers or with you, when you track mud onto the carpet.

Good luck. I think your Dad wants to become the Father of his people, which means you'll have to compete for his attention with 59 million others. But it'll be fun to be there. And please, when he watches Top of the Pops with you and says, "This one has a funky beat!", don't groan, roll your eyes, and hide your head in a cushion.

Simon Hoggart is political columnist for the Guardian