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Saturday, 20 May, 2000, 04:06 GMT 05:06 UK
Welcome distraction for Tony Blair
Tony Blair at the despatch box
Tony Blair can only expect a brief reprieve from the day job
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

There is nothing like a baby to take most peoples' minds off more mundane things in life, like politics.

But, as Tony and Cherie Blair celebrate the birth of their fourth child, the prime minister knows that - after the initial euphoria has worn off - he will quickly have to turn his mind back to running the country.

The new infant is the first for a sitting prime minister in 150 years and its arrival will dominate the news for some time yet.

But Mr Blair has already announced that, despite some calls for him to take paternity leave, he will be back at work as soon as possible.


Tony and Cherie at a polling station
Heavily pregnant Cherie still found time to vote
He will undoubtedly scale down his frantic schedule over the next few weeks, and the looming Whitsun parliamentary break will give him some breathing space.

He has also made it clear that he intends to keep his family away from the media.

Some have suggested he will be under pressure to exploit the occasion to its greatest political potential.

Cabinet reshuffle

And there is little doubt the arrival of the new baby and the ensuing parental duties - nappy changing and so on - will inevitably help his public image, which has taken some serious knocks of late.

But he has insisted he will not allow his family to become the centre of media attention and it is expected that, beyond the inevitable pictures, there will be little access to the Blair family.

The First Baby, as it has already been dubbed, will also renew speculation that the family will want to either move out of Downing Street or find some way of extending their living quarters.

They already live in No 11, normally the Chancellor's home, because of shortage of space in No 10 but a move out of Downing Street would produce major security problems.

Most accept that the prime minister cannot take any extended time off from his job although he may find opposition politicians giving him a slightly softer time for a couple of weeks.

Apart from the normal round of official engagements, Mr Blair's timetable is currently dominated by Northern Ireland.

Hague under pressure?

He has played a large part in trying to get the peace process back on track and will not be able to turn away from it now.

A cabinet reshuffle is also expected within the next two months, with some speculation it could come sooner.

The health service review, which he has taken personal charge of, is also coming to a conclusion and he has numerous other issues such as Sierra Leone and his plunging poll ratings to occupy him.

And, of course, there was the huge problem of who he would leave in charge of running the country if he took any extended break.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott may have expected to take the role, but he has proved accident-prone in the past and the Tories would have certainly targeted him if the prime minister had handed over the reigns of power to him.

Next in line would have been Chancellor Gordon Brown but the last thing Mr Blair wants is evidence that his great rival could be as good, or even better, at the job than he is.

Meanwhile, as the prime minister basks in his new family man image, William Hague and his wife Ffion are said to be coming under pressure to produce their own little bundle of joy.

It has even been suggested that officials in Tory central office are split into pro-baby and anti-baby camps.

However, the couple have made it clear they are not going to get dragged into a competition over this particular element of family values.

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