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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 15:50 GMT
Jowell gets Commons support
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Tessa Jowell knew her future would not hang on the outcome of one performance at her departmental question time - it doesn't work like that.

Tessa Jowell
Jowell won support from ministers
But if she was looking for a comfort blanket to help her face the difficult times still undoubtedly to come, then she was offered one from her Labour friends, particularly women ministers, and even with a little help from the opposition backbenches.

It was noticeable that there were more MPs actually sitting in the chamber for this session than would normally be expected, particularly on a Monday when many are still returning from their constituencies.

Were they there to gloat, engage in a bit of car-crash-style rubber necking, or to support Ms Jowell?

There may have been a bit of the first two, but from a large number of those on the Labour benches it was certainly a show of support for the beleaguered minister.

Earlier in the day she had again been offered the prime minister's support, and, as he answered the first question of the session, sports minister Dick Caborn also offered praise for his boss' work.

Show of solidarity

Sitting alongside her were some of her close party friends, notably frontbenchers Hilary Armstrong, Patricia Hewitt, Margaret Hodge and Beverly Hughes, who lived through her own dark days before resigning as a minister in 2004 over lax visa checks on some immigrants.

They were undoubtedly there to show some solidarity with their colleague. After all, they could very easily have stayed away.

Hugo Swire
Swire intensified the pressure
And Ms Jowell received more vocal support from a number of her own backbenchers.

But it was perhaps more surprising that Tory MP Mark Lancaster also expressed his genuine pleasure that she was in her place for question time.

That perhaps did not chime precisely with the sentiments of Tory spokesman Hugo Swire who suggested that, in her difficult time, the minister must ensure it did not get in the way of the proper running of her department.

This might just signal a hardening of the line from the Tories who have been careful not to weigh into this controversy just yet, preferring to watch as the row unfolds through the media and elsewhere.

Constant pressure

And, despite this question time session - and the fact that Commons watchdog Sir Philip Mawer has also ruled that her entry in the Commons register of interests does not need revising - that row shows no sign of dying down.

David Mills
Investigation into Jowell's husband continues
The Italian investigation into her husband's affairs continues and their separation appears to have done little to immunise her from that.

If action is taken against him, that will give fresh impetus to the affair and, in any case, no-one can be sure just what might emerge next from the Italian investigation.

Headlines such as the Daily Mail's "How much more can Tessa take?" says it all and clearly demonstrate that there is no immediate end in sight to this affair.

And, ultimately, it is still that constant pressure and scrutiny that may outweigh any amount of support Ms Jowell receives from her friends.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk





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