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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 14:29 GMT
Jowell questions continue
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Tony Blair hopes Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell's advice on Tessa Jowell will draw a line under this affair. It almost certainly will not.

Tessa Jowell
Jowell cleared by prime minister
Firstly because, in line with procedure, the cabinet secretary did not actually rule on whether or not Ms Jowell had breached the ministerial code, only that the procedures had been properly followed.

He set out the facts and it was the prime minister, also in line with procedure, who concluded it did not amount to a breach of the code.

He reached that conclusion on the basis that Ms Jowell had insisted her husband did not tell her for four years of the 344,000 "gift" at the centre of the row . If he had, she has insisted she would have declared it, as required.

By the time her husband did tell her, he had informed the Inland Revenue of the sum and paid tax on it as earnings, meaning Ms Jowell did not then need to declare it.

The question already being asked in Westminster is whether the upshot of this ruling is that, as long as a minister can claim ignorance of a spouse's activities, they cannot be held to have breached the code.

Public perception

It is absolutely proper that the cabinet secretary should take a minister at his or her word and rule accordingly.

Similarly the prime minister can hardly reject such an explanation from a minister he believes is honest and trustworthy. And there is absolutely no suggestion from any quarter that Ms Jowell has not been frank about the affair.

Sir Gus O'Donnell
O'Donnell ruled procedures were followed
But that will not stop the questions over how it could be that a sum like 344,000 cannot be a topic of conversation between a husband and wife.

And then there is the effect all this will have on the public perception of Ms Jowell, and possibly the government as a whole.

The fact that her lifestyle is such that a 344,000 income is never mentioned over the breakfast table, at the very least, will raise a few eyebrows - particularly in traditional Labour circles.

Day job

The second reason this affair will not easily die down is because the on-going Italian investigation seems certain to keep the speculation over Ms Jowell's husband and his relationship with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the headlines.

It is possible Mr Mills will be ordered to appear in court during these proceedings.

As is often the case with these ministerial affairs, once the spotlight has been turned on it is difficult to switch it off again.

And it is that drip, drip of claims and speculation that can ultimately make life impossible for a minister attempting to get on with their day job.

Tessa Jowell may be relieved to have been cleared by the prime minister and to continue to enjoy his full confidence.

But she must know this is unlikely to be the end of this affair.



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