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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 12:55 GMT
Politics takes another blow
Cherie Blair
Mrs Blair's role may have changed forever

It might be a bold suggestion, but I'd hazard a guess that the Cherie Blair story was not the most pressing issue on the minds of people across the country over the last two weeks.

I just can't imagine it had them as gripped as the pages and pages of coverage seemed to suggest.

Other important questions remain, and it's right that they are asked. But it's not Watergate, is it?

Certainly not as much, at least, as the prospect of a war in Iraq. Or concerns closer to home about schools, hospitals and the ailing transport system.

The government's huge U-turn over road building plans, executed with relative ease on Tuesday, perhaps?

But in a small corner of London, little else has been talked about over the last few days. One observer called it "institutional hysteria" in the Westminster village. It's hard to find a better description.


That said, "frenzy" - the word which Downing Street had clearly told ministers to use as they tried to head off the row - is pretty good too.

Not that there wasn't a story in the Cherie Blair affair. Yes, important questions arose - namely why the prime minister's wife misled her husband's spokesman.

Other important questions remain, and it's right that they are asked. But it's not Watergate, is it?

Judging by the reaction to the story, you'd think the government was teetering on the brink. There is a state of "near panic" in Whitehall, apparently. It's hogwash.

Worse still, it does no favours to those outside Westminster simply wanting an objective appraisal of the political climate.


Labour itself is partly to blame. There is still deep mistrust - and in some cases loathing - of the media within the party, going back to the way Neil Kinnock was portrayed during the 1992 general election.

As a result, the party has developed a highly sophisticated media machine in an attempt to stop the same thing ever happening again.

Sometimes - and the Jo Moore saga over "burying bad news" highlighted the mentality - they go way over the top.

Some within Labour have turned being petty and unnecessarily obstructive towards journalists simply trying to do their job, into a fine art.

And resentment over spin and the way the media is sometimes manipulated has boiled over for some journalists.

Make no mistake, private battles play a part to some degree. There are political journalists who barely disguise their distaste for Tony Blair's communications chief, Alastair Campbell.


No doubt the feeling is mutual in some cases. That's fair enough. But such feelings shouldn't creep into reporting of parliament and government.

Cherie Blair was wrong to get mixed up with Peter Foster. She was wrong to mislead Downing Street's press office. Other questions remain - but none suggest some great misdeed of mind-blowing proportions.

So who suffers from it all? Cherie Blair will regret that getting mixed up with Peter Foster forced her to make an unprecedented public statement. That may have changed forever her role as the prime minister's wife.

The government has clearly been damaged too. Relations between the media and the government have reached an all time low.

The image of politics and public life has again been tarnished.

And if it did raise questions up and down the country, I can't help thinking that one will have been: "So what was all that about, then?"

What do you think?

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

The current harassment of Mrs Cherie Booth (Blair) appears, to a reader on the Continent, to be rather an exceptionally repulsive kind of moral pornography.
Hans Lund, Belgium

As a Brit now living abroad, who spent last week in Britain, I found the media's obsession with a friend of a friend of the Prime Minister's wife deeply disturbing. There are plenty of things to worry about in Britain. But this ain't one of them.
Ian Markham, USA

So much trouble about something so insignificant! Maybe it is all about the truth, maybe it is all just about selling newspapers. One thing is for sure: you guys are trying very hard to destroy your own country.
B. Abrahams, uk

Mark Davies story misses the point. If we cannot trust the government's spokespeople to tell the truth about such a trifling matter as the purchase of a couple of cheap flats in Bristol, why should we believe anything they say on the issues which do matter.
This government gives the impression of being dishonest and untrustworthy, whether that is actually the case or not, and that is a position no Government should put itself in.
Craig, UK

For an individual who once described himself and party as "Servants of the people, and not their Masters" and "the party of high integrity" Tony Blair has slipped rapidly into the despotic mold of Thatcher. Been there too long, lost touch with reality, seemingly obsessed with the Iraqi situation, popularity at an all-time low. Simply a deteriorating process, and probably not reversable.
Derek Moore, USA

I take the point that this is trivial stuff. But if Downing Street will lie to us about trivia then what will they say to us when they have to deal with really important issues - like why we should go to war with Iraq.
Hedley Malloch, France

A classic example of the media indulging itself in a feeding frenzy which is of little interest to most normal people. Get real...most people couldn't give a flying f..k to this issue. It's a waste of space - move on!
Pete, Wirral, UK

If Cherie Blair wants to 'keep her private life private', she has to stop acting as a politician - No more chairing meetings at Nr 10, no more appearing on TV, no more PR photoshoots. Can anyone name ANY onther QC who does these acts? When Cherie stops being a politician, she can protest honestly, until then, stop those crocodile tears, Cherie!
BJF, England

It's not just this incident that gets up your nose, but the continuous distortion of the facts dished out by this goverment and the assumtion that we are stupid enough not to realise what they are up to.
B Ford, England

The story 'Politics takes another blow' by Mark Davies with which you lead your coverage of Cherie Blair is a blatant piece of partisan writing in favour of the Labour Party. The British public are interested in this story as it involves the people who govern this country. The story involves lies, deceipt and a woman whose judgement has been called into question. This is just the sort of story that the British public love (with the exception of Tony and Cherie Blair of course - but they are not the British public are they?)
Bob Lacey, UK

I couldn't agree more. I think you have hit several nails squarely on the head. I don't buy newspapers - and I am confirmed in my decision. We need a vigorous press but we don't need a lot of what we actually get.
Robert Burr, UK

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