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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 20:17 GMT
Cherie's tearful touch

It was an extraordinary, unprecedented event.

The prime minister's wife stood in the full glare of the media spotlights and laid it on with a trowel.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair can avoid a statement
In a powerful personal plea for understanding, she painted herself as a woman more sinned against than sinning, desperately juggling a superwoman's lifestyle and, on this occasion, dropping the balls.

There was an apology, there was defiance and there were choked-back tears.

If it had been an Academy Award nomination it would surely have won the Oscar.

Shifted ground

But this was clearly a genuine attempt to explain her role in the "Cheriegate" affair which has been lashing her and her husband for more than a week.

And there is little doubt that her statement has significantly shifted the ground.

She may not have answered all the questions about her behaviour.

Indeed, she even raised a fresh question over her role in the planned deportation of convicted conman Peter Foster.

But her husband, who was getting drawn deeper and deeper into this row, has reason to be hugely grateful to her.

Thanks to her performance it will be hugely difficult for her critics to persist with their attacks on her without something far more concrete than has so far emerged.

Dangerous tightrope

The prime minister will probably be able to avoid making any personal statement himself over the affair.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin
Letwin wants inquiry
And Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith will be walking a dangerous tightrope if he attempts to raise the matter during prime ministers' questions on Wednesday afternoon.

It was the statement Mrs Blair should probably have made at the very beginning of the row.

If she had it would have taken much of the heat out of the allegations.

She answered many of the attacks over her relationship with Carole Caplin and her boyfriend Peter Foster.

And she made it pretty clear she believed she had been dropped in it by Mr Foster.

Final straw

And, probably most powerfully, she pleaded with ordinary people to understand that she was just human and made mistakes.

But, even as she answered some of the questions, she also raised another.

She hinted that the final straw was the discovery of a newspaper probing the suggestion that she had checked court records to find the name of a judge - presumably one involved in the deportation proceedings against Peter Foster.

She insisted she had done nothing wrong, but did not offer any further explanation about this.

Some inconsistencies remain. It is still not clear exactly when and what she knew about Mr Foster's criminal background, for example. And she did not take questions.

But the aim of this statement was to try to draw a line under the row which has dominated politics, and clearly harmed her and her husband's standing, and was running out of control.

How much of it was inspired by the Downing Street spin doctors and how much was straight from the heart is impossible to tell.

She, her husband and the entire Downing Street machine will be hoping ordinary people will take it and her on face value, accept her version of events - and move on.

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See also:

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