London: Tony Blair was yesterday embarrassed and further weakened by an astonishing leak from No 10.
A secret memo exposed a detailed plan for his retirement that will see him treated like a rock star, with slots on popular TV shows and a stage-managed farewell tour.
It opened the Prime Minister to charges of vanity and ruined his attempts to douse speculation of an imminent departure that he fears could turn him into a lame duck.
Only last week, Blair told Labour MPs to stop "obsessing" about his retirement and get on with governing. The memo opens him to the same accusation.
Among sections that will have Labour MPs wincing with embarrassment are the description of how his movements should be choreographed to enhance the appearance of his popularity. "He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end he must focus on the future," it states.
The memo, written by a group of close aides, suggests that rumours of job offers to Blair be leaked so that he appears in demand. His staff are instructed to say how much they will miss working for him.
Blair's internal critics seized on the details.
One Labour source said: "It's been apparent for months that this is all that they have been discussing over at No 10. Everything else is taking second place to this question of how and when he stands down."
Speculation was focusing on a retirement next spring or summer, after he marks his 10th anniversary in power. At the same time, one of Blair's close Cabinet allies admitted he will go inside a year.
David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, said there was "conventional wisdom" that the Prime Minister will be gone within 12 months, although he said he had not discussed the matter with Blair.
Brown may be angry
The leak will also fuel speculation in some quarters that Blair aims to damage the chances of Gordon Brown enjoying a smooth transition. Astonishingly, the document even admits that the strategy will infuriate Brown, who is described as a potential "threat".
"The more successful we are, the more it will agitate and possibly destabilise him," it says.
The memo says that everything will be staged to make Blair look like a statesman who has not run out of energy but is rising above the political fray.
"In seeking to achieve this the whole operation should reflect the change in the political atmosphere: TB focusing on his priorities; TB laying the foundation for the future based on his experience in office.
"This positive approach needs to be reflected not only by TB but by those who work and support him. We should show how much we enjoy working for TB, what pride we take in our work and how we want his premiership to end on a high."
In a clear reference to Brown and the Tories, it adds: "But if some of our own side are not prepared to accept this, and the Tories step up attacks then we will have to revisit ... But this whole approach has been adopted to avoid that, so we should work on the basis that we will have achieved this."
The memo talks of a media blitz focusing not on political shows but on soft appearances on Songs of Praise and the Chris Evans show on Radio 2, plus children's programmes such as Blue Peter.
Blair will decamp from the Commons and pose before "iconic locations".
The leak came as it emerged that previously loyal Labour MPs are circulating a letter urging the Prime Minister to retire soon. Blair was in York today making a speech on social exclusion.
It forms part of a week-long series of events including a trip to the Middle East designed to show him as full of energy and in command of his government.