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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Cherie dodges retirement question
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Manchester

Cherie Blair
Mrs Blair has fun on the fringe
"I'd love to play with you darling, but not on this one."

Cherie Blair was remaining steadfastly tight-lipped about husband Tony's retirement as she toured stalls at Labour's conference in Manchester.

Mrs Blair chatted happily with everyone from the Falkland Islands stall to the Usdaw shopworkers union - although she neglected to stop by at the CND stand.

But whenever that question came up she had an answer ready, telling reporters "How many times can a girl say no?"

Mr Blair has said this year's conference will be his last as leader - and the week is expected to be dominated by questions about his departure date and who will take over.

Anyone hoping to pick up a clue from Mr Blair's wife will have been disappointed - but it did not stop them trying.

'Not playing ball'

"How does it feel to be at conference knowing it is Mr Blair's last as leader?," asked one female reporter, as Mrs Blair chatted to staff on a mock-up of a Tube train at engineering contractor Metronet's stand.

"Will you be going back to using the Tube yourself soon?"

"This woman is doing an excellent job!" joked Mrs Blair avoiding the question.

Would she like to tell us what it feels like to be bowing out?

"In your dreams, boy."

"You're not playing ball on this one, are you Cherie?," an exasperated BBC reporter said at one point.

"I'd love to play with you darling, but not on this one," Mrs Blair shot back, smiling.

'Spin doctor'

Mrs Blair's tour of the conference fringe has become an annual event and despite the constant questions about Mr Blair's exit she seemed to be enjoying herself.

Cherie Blair
Mrs Blair plays word games with reporters

She even managed to keep smiling after failing a "democracy health check" at the Electoral Commission stand, overestimating the number of Labour MPs in the Commons.

As she made her wrong guess from the electronic multiple choice menu in front of her, the verdict "Political void" flashed on the screen above her head.

There was another telling moment at an Autism charity's stand, where Mrs Blair was asked to play a word association game.

She stuck "ants" and "pants" together to symbolise "fidgety, restless" and she also managed to put landslide and victory - represented by a picture of Churchill - to symbolise the 1997 general election.

But she lost interest in the game before getting to "spin" and "doctor".

Ryder Cup

Mrs Blair also took a television reporter for task for failing to pass on the news of Europe's Ryder Cup victory fast enough.

"What's the point of having a 24-hour news channel here and you don't think to tell me," she said.

She described the win as "brilliant" but confessed she was not a golfer herself.

"I have no hand and eye coordination," she joked.

She did not need it at the RNIB stand, where she was blindfolded and asked to toss a pancake three times as part of mock gameshow Keith Poorsight's Degeneration Game.

Inevitably, she dropped the pancake, joking: "I dread to think what these pictures are like."

With such duties, you could forgive Mrs Blair if she did not miss Labour conferences too much...




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