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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006, 11:45 GMT
Analysis: Jowell separation
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell has Tony Blair's backing
It may seem harsh, but the biggest question over Tessa Jowell's separation from her husband is whether it will help save her career.

The culture secretary's defence in the whole controversial affair over her husband's business dealings has been that he did not tell her about it.

It is an explanation that her friend and boss Tony Blair accepted, before continuing to offer her his full support.

But it had become increasingly clear that it had not stopped the questions, and more revelations are expected in the Sunday newspapers.

Specifically, the on-going investigation into her husband's affairs and the chance of him being brought before an Italian court ensured this row would continue.

And that sort of pressure can, as ministers before her have discovered, prove fatal to their cabinet careers.

Ms Jowell's husband has accepted full responsibility for the controversy, effectively absolving his wife from any apparent guilt.

'Anger'

He has also confessed to causing her "anger and embarrassment" by failing to take her into his confidence.

But he has also expressed his hope that they will be able to restore their relationship in the future.

So there is a question over what has prompted the split, with some suggesting it is an attempt by David Mills to protect his wife from future revelations about his own affairs.

Meanwhile, the whole episode has immediately raised comparisons with the split between former minister Robin Cook and his wife Margaret.

That came as the row over Mr Cook's affair with his secretary Gaynor was escalating in the media.

It has been claimed that, as he was heading for a holiday with his wife, Mr Cook received a phone call from Tony Blair's spin chief Alastair Campbell telling him he had to choose between his marriage and his career and, in effect, bounced Mr Cook into separating from his wife.

There is no suggestion that Mr Campbell, or anybody else in or around Downing Street, has played any part in this latest episode.

Speculation

But that will do nothing to stop the speculation and rumours, which started within seconds of the separation being announced.

While it may well offer Ms Jowell some respite, it still leaves some questions unanswered.

But it probably does distance the minister from the on-going Italian investigation. And that may head off future embarrassment.

Ms Jowell has won breathing space and can continue to insist, with the backing of her husband's statement, she was in the dark about his dealings.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk




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