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SOL: Cherie Blair's Defence Unconvincing

From the Streets of London with Malcolm Aitken

Cherie Blair's Defence Unconvincing

Cherie Blair's short televised rebuttal on Tuesday evening vis-à-vis her dealings with convicted fraudster Peter Foster was arrogant, self righteous and demonstrated how little real importance Mrs Blair attaches to exposing and eliminating corruption in public life. It also showed her lack of appreciation of how essential a strong, questioning, free media is to guarding the public interest in democracies. Either that or she doesn't care too much about the public interest.

The string of Clintonesque clichés and emotive rhetoric she used when speaking about, for example, protecting her children 'like any mother would' (oh, pleeeeeeeease) conveniently diverted attention from the publicized facts of the case. Unsurprising. These facts point to her having told half-truths and having misled people.

Sure it doesn't appear that Mrs Blair has done anything illegal or improper in the way she bought a flat for the Blairs' eldest lad, Euan, in Brixton, south London. Her unfortunate choice of adviser is excusable (and that's what Australian Foster was, despite Mrs Blair’s refusal to acknowledge it). Everybody makes mistakes. Moreover, it hasn't been proven the PM's wife got involved with Foster's deportation process in any substantive way, or that ministerial impropriety was afoot. Even putting aside her earlier dishonesty, accepting her dubious apology, it's what Mrs Blair may have done to return Foster's favour that has really made journalists curious.

Question marks hang over some of the disclosures. Information has come through in dribs and drabs. A man with a string of fraud convictions whom she had initially denied dealing with, helped her save thousands of pounds buying property. A man, incidentally, facing deportation because of his criminal past. She, the PM's wife and a high-power barrister and part- time judge, later enquired with Foster's lawyer at least about his application to stay in the UK. Perhaps she even contacted the relevant authorities. She also allegedly checked which judge was presiding over his case and when a newspaper uncovered this became very defensive. This could all be construed as mightily dodgy.

Understandably there have been suggestions Cherie Blair may have 'represented' Foster over his deportation-returning his favour- or, conversely, intervened to get a potential political time bomb on an aeroplane and as far away as possible as soon as possible, once she realised what he was about. Taking things a step further, aspersions cast regarding what form Mrs Blair's 'representation' may have taken, too, are completely understandable, given this woman's sheer power on a number of levels. Therefore the Government's refusal to hold an inquiry is unfair and unacceptable but, unfortunately, predictable. A lot of what's gone on could perhaps be explained as Mrs Blair innocently doing a few favours for her friend Carole Caplin and not realising how dodgy Carole's boyfriend is. Centrally, a public enquiry could exonerate her and make the Government look as though it has zero tolerance of high-level corruption, not just people being drunk in the streets.

The absence of an investigation comes as no great surprise because her husband and his political buddies such as, for example, Peter Mandelson, one of the recognised architects of New Labour, treat the media contemptuously whenever a newspaper sinks its teeth into a story that's politically unfavourable to them. How dare journalists seek straight answers? Who do they think they are? Many British politicians either clam up and become very irascible or pretty much stamp their feet and wail like spoilt children when anyone suggests they've been naughty and have to explain themselves. Sometimes they do both.

Incidentally it's not worth dwelling on what Cheriegate might say about the PM's office: this isn't an aberration. Expecting honesty from Downing Street isn't totally dissimilar to expecting honesty from the sleaziest used car dealer in town.

Anyway, what’s particularly riled this writer is Cherie Blair's 'poor little me' demeanour and her muddying of the waters with use of weak defences such as family privacy and the right of politicians' spouses to have their 'private affairs' kept out of the media spotlight.

Sorry Mrs Blair, you can't have your cake and eat it. Ok, not having the massive state and executive power Tony wields and not being an elected official she shouldn't have to answer to people like he does. Parliamentarians are accountable to parliament. She's not and no one's suggesting she should be.

However, in reality, by virtue of her marriage to Tony, Mrs Blair possesses enormous social power and influence. (That’s without even considering her status as a judge). Therefore any business she conducts that potentially involves favouritism or corruption on the back of Tony’s job should be closely scrutinised by the media if anything seems awry. And, if necessary, parliament, the police and the courts should be brought into it. They may have vastly different levels of institutional power, but Mrs Blair enjoys many of the benefits of office that Tony does, without the inconvenience of a parliamentary opposition (as pathetic as it may be) waiting for her to trip up. The media's there to fill the gap.

Yes, some of the tabloids do show little respect for famous people's privacy and do hound stars and celebs. However, devious politicians and their associates lump the tabloids and broadsheets together: the sensational with the measured, the flimsy with the factually robust. Self-serving politicians and their associates playing the heroic victim and often the innocent constantly malign the media as a whole.

Good on Mrs Blair for apologising after misleading the British public regarding how much she'd had to do with Foster. That’s not enough though and she certainly lost the sympathy of a lot of people I'm sure when she started spouting sentimental claptrap.

Mrs Blair also referred to juggling priorities and not being a superwoman. She's got her role as PM's wife and mother to their children, her very successful and commendable legal career and her charity work. Dare anyone point out the startlingly obvious, that most of this is choice? Fancy someone of her financial means moaning like this when so many people in Britain are struggling, arguably with not that much help from her Tony. This tirade from someone so privileged was completely unconvincing.

******************

- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London. He can be contacted at MTFAitken@aol.com


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