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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 11:14 GMT
Head-to-head: Cherie row
Clare Short (left) and Ann Widdecombe
The row over Cherie Blair's links with convicted fraudster Peter Foster continues to dominate the political media coverage - but is the prime minister's wife villain or victim?

Former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe and International Development Secretary Clare Short have sharply different views on whether the questions are justified.


Ann Widdecombe told BBC Five Live:

"I think Cherie Blair has obviously been over influenced by friendship into taking some very unwise decisions.

That would be a matter for her and nobody else but for the fact that public servants became involved in trying to spin her way out of it.

It does look as though some of the statements they made were, to put it mildly, challengeable and that is where the problem arises.

She has herself crossed the boundary between private and public by having officials answer.

'Beyond obsession'

As to who is to blame for the problems with Downing Street's statements, it depends what the press officers knew.

If they did not know of Peter Foster's role, if they accepted the prime minister's wife's word for it and then used a Number 10 press briefing to disseminate the answers, then they were themselves victims as they were misled.

I think what this really does tell us is that spin with this government has gone beyond an obsession now.

It is now their automatic refuge to everything, even an issue like this.

I think if Mrs Blair had come clean right from the start and said 'yes, I did engage this man and this was the extent to it' and she had set out the extent, there would not have been much follow-up."


Clare Short told BBC Two's Newsnight:

The important thing to ask yourself on the three occasions is: has she done anything wrong and the answer is no.

She bought a flat for her son and then a guy helped her who proved to have a bad background.

The question there is did he rip her off. She hadn't done anything wrong.

'Out of control'

The new allegation - shock, horror - her present friend (Carole Caplin) was really worried that Peter Foster's case was not being handled properly by the lawyer.

Cherie is a lawyer, she made a call to a lawyer and then reassured her friend it was being properly handled. She had done nothing wrong.

The whole media is absolutely frantic, with gallons of newsprint, every horrible picture anyone can find of Cherie, going on and on at her.

She's not a politician and she has not done anything wrong. It is just out of control.


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See also:

10 Dec 02 | Politics
09 Dec 02 | Politics
10 Dec 02 | Politics

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