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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 September 2005, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
Diary: Blair in India
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website, with Tony Blair in New Delhi

THURSDAY 8 SEPTEMBER, NEW DELHI

0400 BST

The British media have had little to no access to the prime minister's wife during this four day trip to China and India. Downing Street has become increasingly nervous about the press interest in Mrs Blair - or Britain's "first lady" as the Indian press insist on calling her - and is reluctant to reveal anything about what she is up to. However, local media were able to get alongside her when she gave a talk to members of the Indian women's press corps. Among the subjects she touched on was her childhood fantasy of coming to India and falling for an Indian prince. She also addressed the continuing controversy over her occasional public differences with the prime minister. "Either he has to be a saint or I have to be subservient, if I claim I have never disagreed," she said.

0430 BST

It's all change for the prime ministers official visit to India prime minister Manmohan Singh's private Himalayas retreat. Apparently weather conditions have forced a last-minute change of venue to Udaipur in Rajasthan. I am reliably informed the new venue is a hotel in a lake in this desert region which was the setting for scenes in the James Bond film. Octopussy (the name's Blair. Tony Blair...). Sadly this has not changed the fact that only one news agency journalist can accompany Mr Blair on his trip.

0445 BST

The news that Northern Ireland beat England one nil in the crucial world cup qualifier obviously delighted the prime minister's official spokesman, Ulsterman Tom Kelly. So perhaps it was the distraction of this astonishing victory that led to him missing the prime minister's convoy this morning, leaving him desperately trying to catch up in a taxi.

0900 BST

According to fuller reports of Mrs Blair's remarks to Indian women journalists, she also revealed her former desire to be Britain's first woman prime minister. On her early ambitions, apart from "coming to India and falling in love with an Indian prince", she said she had wanted to go into politics, unlike the prime minister who told students here he had wanted to be a rock star. But, she said, her dream of being the first woman prime minister was ruined when Margaret Thatcher beat her to it.

WEDNESDAY 7 SEPTEMBER, DELHI

0445 BST

Tony Blair has arrived in New Delhi for the India leg of his trip which is also set to focus on growing trade and political links.

The bad news is that as we left for Beijing airport yesterday a minibus with journalists and embassy and British government officials overturned on the motorway. The Press Association's political editor Jon "Hurricane" Smith - so called because of the speed and volume of his work - was slightly injured and taken to hospital. Downing Street aide Ian Gleeson also sustained a minor injury which saw him taken to hospital. PA photographer Stefan Rousseau sustained some cuts and bruises but, pro that he is, managed to join us for the flight on to New Delhi. Thankfully there were no serious injuries.

I phoned Hurricane Smith and spoke to him as he was on his way to hospital in the back of the ambulance. "I'm fine, I'm fine," he insisted, adding "and don't worry, the first thing I did was file the story to my office".

I never doubted it Jon.

0500 BST

Tony Blair's new reputation as "two dinners" faces a test tonight (He certainly seems to have put on weight if the button-busting suit is anything to go by). I have just learned what is expected to be on the menu for his slap up banquet hosted by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. The event will be held at one of India's proudest examples of Mughal architecture, Humayun's Tomb and the man said to be responsible for the food is celebrated chef Rajiv Maken. Dishes will include galouti kebab, Chettinad chicken, Kashmiri yakhni and even a sizzling vindaloo and Bengali prawns. I can't see the prime minister resisting at least two helpings.

0530

The prime minister, his wife and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barosso have laid wreaths at the Gandhi memorial in a large public garden in New Delhi. This is where Gandhi was cremated in 1948. The prime minister and Cherie threw handfuls of red rose petals onto the simple black marble monument. On leaving, the prime minister signed the visitors book with words he clearly believes have a wider significance. "The principle in which he (Gandhi) lived his life will endure forever; namely that only ultimate salvation for humanity comes when people of all colours, race, nations and religions, learn to live in peace and harmony with each other. Tony Blair". The prime minister and his party were then presented with large busts of Gandhi.

TUESDAY 6 SEPTEMBER

0230 BST

At the Beijing Athletic stadium, where the prime minister is having a kickabout with former England boss Sir Bobby Robson.

The prime minister is always eager to get stuck in whenever he sees a football, but on our count he missed five attempts at goal. Spurred on by Sir Bobby's shouts of "come on you cannot miss from there" - the PM finally succeeded in putting one in the past the youthful Chinese goalkeeper at the sixth attempt. Cherie Blair was watching this display from near the goalmouth, although if her husband's footballing skills had been as woeful as mine, she would probably have chosen a safer distance.

The PM then moved on to chat with the athlete Colin Jackson, raising fears he was going to try a spot of high hurdling as well. He didn't. But he was accosted by a student he had met during his last visit to China two years ago. At that meeting the young man had expressed admiration for the prime minister's tie and Mr Blair had returned the compliment in regard to the student's shirt, suggesting they should do a swap. That didn't happen. But this time the young man was able to claim his prize - taking home Mr Blair's Olympics 2012 tie. Mr Blair did not ask for the young man's shirt in return...

0300 BST

Official banquets clearly can't be all they are cracked up to be. Tony Blair attended the summit banquet last night hosted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao - probably something like hot and sour soup and so on. But then, some three hours later, he was spotted in the restaurant at the China World hotel tucking into another dinner with his entourage. So, it's two dinners Tony then - perhaps he really is missing the advice of former lifestyle guru Carole Caplin.

0330 BST

There's a bit of "down time" this morning - that is routine events to which most of the press aren't invited. So I've seized the opportunity to visit the Forbidden City (ignoring wisecracks from colleagues that I won't be let in).

0420 BST

Fabulous visit which needs at least a full day to complete, not the one hour five minutes I had available. Still, bought the guide book and saw the garden of Tranquil Longevity which was, well, tranquil, the Hall of Imperial Supremacy, which may have to be re-named the Hall of Economic Supremacy and the Palace of Gathering Elegance. No time to get the T shirt, sadly.

0445 BST

Funtime over and back on the bus for a day of cultural events. After the Forbidden City, Sir Bobby Robson may leave something to be desired, however.

0834 BST

At the China Club where the prime minister was launching a new cultural partnership with China.

Last time the prime minister was here Cherie Blair got into all sorts of trouble when she was filmed singing The Beatles' "When I'm 64" a few days after the death of Dr David Kelly. It was a gaffe Downing Street did not want to repeated on this partnership and the media have been given no details of Cherie's programme of events.

But even the best laid plans sometimes go astray.

Just as they were eagerly shepherding the hacks out of the cultural event they directed them straight into the path of Mrs Blair and her entourage. The prime minister's wife was a little taken aback and made some humorous comments about watching out as "there are dangerous people about".

But she was, nonetheless, forced to stand and wait while the hacks filed past her bus.

MONDAY 5 SEPTEMBER

0800 BST

Tony Blair's 747 has just touched down at Beijing airport and the prime minister's party has been welcomed with the red carpet treatment and bouquets of flowers before racing off to the first meeting of the day - a handshake and photo call with President Hu Jontao at the Great Hall of the People.

The bad news for the prime minister is that the continuing bra wars has not been resolved.

Still, the EU Commissioner responsible, his great friend Peter Mandelson, is in town confident he can sort it out.

0830 BST

The prime minister may well be "racing" (see above) but the travelling press are struggling through the Beijing traffic.

It is probably a cliché, but this city is a huge building site - the old China, with some pretty grim buildings, is gradually being swallowed up by the new China of glass, concrete and all the usual trappings of a successful capitalist city.

An LA-style smog hangs over everything - no wonder Tony Blair wants to put the environment top of his summit agenda.

0905 BST

Arrive at the Great Hall of the People for the EU/China business summit amid gossip that the prime minister has sealed a deal over "bra wars".

The whisper goes around that it is based around "shoes for bras" although nobody seems to know exactly what that means. The two items hardly seem to be interchangeable

It gradually begins to emerge, however, the deal may involve the Chinese off-setting half of the current quota of the garments to next year's allocation.

However, it appears Peter Mandelson is going to let the prime minister reveal the details of the deal in his press conference within the next hour.

0925 BST

Tony Blair has just made a statement at the end of the business summit in which he obliquely referred to the trade dispute, but kept us hanging on.

Speaking from the platform, he repeated his call for the European Union to rise to the challenge of the Chinese economy.

And he insisted that might have been seen as thinly disguised criticism of the EU countries who had resisted the deal.

"There is a place for managing change but for no place for resisting change," the prime minister said.

And, he added, as trade increased there would be problems from time to time, as with the dispute over textiles - and the key was resolving them and continuing to trade.

The prime minister also said the growing economic co-operation with China has to be matched by political co-operation. it was vital for political stability in China, the region and the rest of the world.

"We also have to show, as we increase trade, we increase growth, prosperity, jobs and security," said Mr Blair.

Speaking from the same platform, CBI boss Digby Jones drove home the prime minister's message of increasing trade and said he was proud that the confederation would be opening an office in Beijing this autumn.

1015 BST

Well that has sown the first seeds of doubt.

The Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao was just talked about "eventually" finding a solution to the bra wars. In a speech from the platform he said there would always be an element of competition between China and Europe and although the sides have some different ideas that was "quite natural".

These difficulties should not have a negative impact on growing relations and with "wisdom and will" they could be solved.

For example, on the textile dispute, he said: "We will eventually find a solution that is beneficial to both sides."

That sent the travelling press pack, who had just filed "breakthrough" stories back to the drawing board.

1120 BST

Panic over, it seems.

The whisper has now gone round that all sides - EU, China and the UK - have let it be known there is a deal. It appears the reluctance to go more strongly earlier in the day was the need to get the nod and wink form those EU countries who had been kicking up a fuss over the importance of Chinese textiles.

1205 BST

Finally it has been confirmed, at the end of summit press conference, that a deal has been done, although it always looked likely.

But there was much excitement when the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, appeared to make stronger than usual comments about his desire to extend democracy in China. He said that the current system allowed direct elections at village level and he saw no reason why that could not be extended to townships and possibly beyond in the future. This led one of the travelling journalists to declare: "Excellent story - Blair brings democracy to China..."


SEE ALSO:
Blair meets India PM in Rajasthan
08 Sep 05 |  UK Politics
Just give us the fax, Mr Blair...
06 Sep 05 |  UK Politics
Blair presses trade with India
07 Sep 05 |  UK Politics
Blair presses for China democracy
06 Sep 05 |  UK Politics


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