EDITORIAL: Blair can heal the Govt's media rift

In a recent interview with PRWeek (29 November) Max Clifford said his great achievement was attaching the word 'sleaze' to the Tories and that he would not hesitate at meting out the same treatment to New Labour.

We now know he was sitting on a bombshell, having been approached by two former colleagues of the fraudster Peter Foster, whose revelations unleashed the sordid tale now dubbed Cheriegate.

Cherie Blair's carefully crafted appeal for sympathy this week has been remarkably well received by the media, and Tony Blair might be right when he says this media frenzy will abate.

This is certainly not the first time civil service press officers have been found in the uncomfortable position of having lied, unwittingly, for New Labour, but this time the rift goes all the way to the living quarters at Number 10.

Downing Street spokesmen Godric Smith and Tom Kelly have rightly been exonerated of blame over the denials of Foster's involvement, having taken the PM's wife at her word. Despite the Daily Mail's insistence on ousting Alastair Campbell, his barely concealed fury at being caught in the middle of this crisis indicates that he and his long-time partner Fiona Miller were also caught on the hop. Calls for his resignation are misplaced.

Shooting the messenger won't help rebuild a relationship of trust between Number 10 and the media.

Instead, remaining questions - for example how far Tony Blair was aware of the details of his wife's property purchase and her advisers at the time of the initial briefings - still need to be answered. A statement from Blair clearing up lingering 'misunderstandings', would go a long way toward repairing Number 10's damaged relationship with the media.

This rift has implications that extend beyond the current 'storm in a teacup'.

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