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EDITIONS
Friday, 13 December, 2002, 20:58 GMT
The legacy of 'Cheriegate'
Cherie Blair
Braving the storm: Cherie outside Downing Street

Why aren't we satisfied?

A tale of betrayal, guilt, vanity and greed has hooked us for a fortnight.

It's a sensational story involving the first family in British politics with a jailbird, a fitness instructor, fax machines, mobile phone transcripts, immigration officials, spin doctors, financial advisers and the cabinet secretary.

Tony Blair, with his hands raised to emphasise the point, made it clear on Friday he is "really not getting involved in this any longer".

He feels the public and the press have had their "pound of flesh". It is time to move on.

A pound of flesh, we have had, perhaps, but no-one has spilled any blood.

If she was acting when she addressed the cameras last Tuesday, she deserves an Oscar

If Cherie Blair was a government minister that might be different.

When Peter Mandelson misled the Downing Street press office, it proved fatal.

Mrs Blair cannot be sacked, and despite her desire to "crawl away", she cannot resign.

She has, however, been forced to draw back the curtains in Downing Street, and allow us a good glimpse of her life - the pressures, the practicalities and the doubts.

'Juggling balls'

If she was acting when she addressed the cameras last Tuesday, she deserves an Oscar. I certainly fell for it, and found it fascinating.

When Peter Foster is long forgotten, and has been booted out of the UK, most of us will still remember that quiet but steady voice, telling us why she wasn't a superwoman.

Most of us will have wondered in the past what it is like to be married to the prime minister, to bring up four children in Number 10, and to hold down a high-powered job as a barrister and judge.

Now we know Cherie Blair appreciates her "special position" but feels she is "juggling a lot of balls", and that sometimes, "they get dropped".

We know how anxious she is about her looks and dress sense, how eager she is to help her friends, how determined she is to protect her family.

Of all the people to pick a fight with, the parliamentary press lobby was a foolish choice

She is even worried about money - something most people would find extraordinary for someone in her, most privileged position.

We also know she wasn't straight with her husband's staff, and because of that, the prime minister's official spokesman misled the press.

Of all the people to pick a fight with, the parliamentary press lobby was a foolish choice.

Overcoming the allegations about Foster, his deportations, the Bristol flats and Carole Caplin was always going to rely on convincing Westminster-based journalist this was a case of smoke without fire.

By misleading us at the very start, the Downing Street press office saddled itself with a major handicap for the rest of the battle.

Bridges are now being re-built, a difficult relationship is being repaired, but no-one likes being conned, and Cherie Blair is not the only one feeling sore after her dealings with Foster.

Senior officials in Number 10 will take a while to forget this, and Cheriegate's lasting legacy, I suspect, will be a greater reluctance in future to believe what decent and likeable civil servants will tell us.


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