TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen often has the appearance of a disgruntled husband, standing with his hands in his pockets in a shopping centre on a Sunday afternoon waiting for his wife to finish the shopping.

What seemed a good idea at first has become a living nightmare and now he looks as if he just doesn't want to be there at all.

Being taoiseach during the most testing economic crisis in the history of the state cannot be easy. But his detractors, who outnumber his supporters, would claim that Cowen fell asleep at the wheel when he was finance minister from 2004 to 2008, and contributed to the economic mess.

It is a rare occurrence for Cowen's leadership to be on the receiving end of a compliment so last Wednesday's news that the internationally-renowned Newsweek magazine had placed him among the top ten world leaders must have come as a shock to the taoiseach. It was akin to the wife of the lad in the shopping centre getting a rush of blood to the head, leaving her shopping trolley aside and begging her husband to take her home to watch Sky Sports for the evening, but only after stopping at the off-licence and the Chinese take-away on the way.

In the article, titled 'Go to the top of the class', Newsweek placed Cowen alongside international leaders such as Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's David Cameron.

Going by some of the reaction to it at home, the accolade actually inspired more derision aimed at the taoiseach. For Cowen, the compliment will do little to alter the public perception of him as a leader.

But Cowen and his advisers must have been thinking to themselves that, even though "a pat on the back is a short distance from a kick in the arse", it was nice to be a hero, at least for one day, before the media and blogosphere went into overdrive playing down the Newsweek article.

On the same day that Cowen was getting his pat on the back, the British media was telling the tale of two prime ministers – David Cameron and Tony Blair.

Since Franklin D Roosevelt claimed in 1933 that he should be judged by the changes he ushered in during his first 100 days in office, governments all over the world have also been judged on their performance over their first 100 days.

Wednesday was the 100th day since the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats went into coalition. Even though the British public has yet to settle on a nickname for the coalition – Con-Lib, Lib-Con or Con-Dem – their media gave Cameron and Nick Clegg a largely positive report card. Cameron is certainly viewed in a much more favourable light than Cowen was after his first 100 days in power.

The same cannot be said for Cameron's predecessor, Tony Blair, who has been at the centre of a storm in Britain since his announcement last Monday that all proceeds from his soon-to-released autobiography, A Journey, will be given to a British Legion rehabilitation centre for injured soldiers.

The prime minister who led Britain into two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is now going to offer the £4.6 million (€5.6m) he is projected to make from his book to a war veterans' charity.

The contentious move has opened up a chasm in public debate. On one side there are those who see it as a gesture of goodwill by a man racked with Catholic guilt over the wars. (Blair has been a Catholic since late 2007.) On the other side there are those who see the donation as a cynical and shallow plan to make the public view him in a more sympathetic light by showing them 'Charitable Tony'.

One British commentator even made the point that Tony Blair is a global business, like Lady Gaga or Tiger Woods. He has houses worth £13 million, a staff of 130 and he earns millions from the maze of companies he owns. The commentator argued that his charitable gesture is a loss-leader: Blair takes a financial hit on his book earnings for the greater good of Tony Blair Inc in the future.

Whether you view Blair as a warmonger or a middle-aged man racked with newfound Catholic guilt, his £4.6 million donation is in marked contrast to Bertie Ahern's behaviour.

Ahern also wrote his autobiography last year but he is by no means racked with guilt over his record in handling economic matters.

While Blair is giving away the proceeds from his book, Ahern pocketed his reported €100,000. Then he had the audacity to apply to the Revenue Commissioners to get the income from the book exempted from tax on the grounds that it was an "original and creative" work. Surely that tax exemption was introduced for struggling artists living a hand-to-mouth, bohemian lifestyle, and not for former taoisigh?

British commentators have remarked that Tony Blair has 130 staff. Well, at least Blair pays for them himself. Under a scheme introduced by Ahern in 2001, former taoisigh are entitled to claim an allowance to employ a secretary. And even though he is still a Dáil deputy, Ahern has received €230,000 since he stepped down in 2008 and last year he claimed €114,369 under this scheme.

Seánie and Síle Taxpayer paid for Bertie Ahern's private secretary last year. She is one of the people you could ring if you wanted to get in touch with him about his book, for instance.

And then the political establishment wonder why so many people have the same belligerent attitude towards politicians as the disgruntled husband has towards shopping.

Shane Coleman is on leave