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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 May, 2003, 08:51 GMT 09:51 UK
The agonies of a 5O-year-old PM

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Blair said he dreaded hitting 50
It's bad enough having to listen to your friends - invariably male - agonising over reaching their half century. But the prime minister?

For heaven's sake, it's only another birthday. As anyone who has already passed their 50th will be too quick to point out.

Anyway, at his age he is lucky he can remember it is his birthday, let alone how old he is.

And hasn't the prime minister got other things to worry about like the NHS, the euro and his greatest political opponent, Gordon Brown?

Of course he has, and there is no suggestion he is taking his birthday off to lie in a darkened room and contemplate the nature of mortality.

So why is everybody banging on about this particular birthday?

Every angle

Well, to be serious about this, he started it.

There were those slightly bizarre, not to say scary, pictures by trendy photographer Rankin.

Then there was the famous interview for Saga in which he said he didn't feel 50 and was dreading his half century.

These interviews don't happen by accident and these comments don't just come out spontaneously.

The king of spin does nothing without considering every possible angle and whether it will play in his favour or not.

The danger of giving this particular interview and making these specific comments was that it was giving commentators the green light to trawl all over his life, personal as well as political.

On the slide

If he was currently suffering appalling opinion poll ratings and his government was on the rack, it would have been an opportunity to start writing his political obituary.

He may be facing a serious revolt over foundation hospitals, but there is no suggestion he is on the slide. Still, it was a gamble.

He may also be accused of encouraging a personality cult. That was precisely why the Kremlin refused to make a big deal of President Vladimir Putin's 50th last year.

The up side, on the other hand, was that by expressing such mid-life doubts, the prime minister played to the "I'm just an ordinary bloke really. If you cut me do I not bleed" image.

He has played this one before and it has always appeared to work for him.

But even that is a risk. It begs the question of whether voters really want a prime minister - particularly one with a penchant for taking Britain to war - who is as fallible as them.

In any case, the post-war Blair appears a much less uncertain person. He looks like a man possessed of his own certainties.

And, in his first post-war press conference, there was a sign he may be regretting those comments.

Asked about his birthday, he refused to be drawn, saying he had had enough of all that.

Thanks to the blanket coverage his comments kicked off, by the end of Tuesday 6 May, we will all probably have had enough of it as well.

Blair's fear of five-o
09 Apr 03  |  Politics
Blair at 50: Ask the experts
02 May 03  |  Have Your Say
Putin hits 50
07 Oct 02  |  Europe

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