CHARLIE WHELAN: IDS is right to slam Blair's use of his children

All politicians know that having a family is one of their biggest PR assets. Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, though, has decided to make a point of not exploiting his family and instead launched an astonishing attack on Tony Blair for doing so.

IDS accused the Prime Minister of 'ruthlessly' using his kids and vowed never to do the same. This outburst came in his local rag and initially Tory Central office claimed that his words had been taken out of context.

They soon realised that they hadn't, and, in any case, the attack did have a ring of truth to it and would chime with the public.

His objection to Blair using his family doesn't stretch to his wife Cherie because, like Blair, IDS parades his other half, Betsy, in front of the cameras. In Harrogate last week I even saw IDS with Betsy in the street, though no-one knew who he was.

Politicians know the media love the wifey or family picture and they are normally happy to go along with it. Even former Labour leader John Smith, who hated spin doctors, was delighted when his three beautiful daughters came to his first party conference as leader - and it was them, not him, the snappers were most interested in.

Number 10's response to IDS last week was one of moral indignation, claiming Blair had done everything possible to protect his kids from the media, and pointing out how many times the Blairs had appealed to the Press Complaints Commission. This includes the outrageous decision of the PCC to tick off The Daily Telegraph for revealing that Euan had applied for a place at Oxford. When the same boy was found drunk on a pavement in Leicester Square, Number 10 were quite happy for the press to report the incident because they rightly reckoned that the story was a 'good' one for the PM.

I will also never forget Blair's campaign to become leader of the party, in particular the first speech he made following John Smith's death. It was about 'the Family'. It was simple, really - Peter Mandelson believed that, because Gordon Brown didn't have a family, Blair talking about the issue would bolster his man at the expense of the Shadow Chancellor.

Brown was furious but he could have helped himself more if he hadn't kept his own personal life so private. It was a good two years before he allowed me to arrange for the cameras to 'snap' him and his then girlfriend, Sarah, now his wife.

The fact is that the Tory leader is right about Blair. On the one hand, he claims to 'protect' his kids with constant appeals to the media to leave them alone. On the other, he will use photo opportunities to bolster his image.

The photo of the family outside Number 10 on election day for his Christmas card is a classic example. He claimed this was a private matter, knowing full well that every paper would print a copy of the card, especially as every editor got one. You might also ask why Cherie took Euan to meet Kate Winslet at a film premiere if she wanted to keep her son out of the papers?

The one photo that hasn't been printed yet is the one of a topless Cherie Blair sunbathing at Geoffrey Robinson's Tuscan villa, taken by the Italian paparazzi.

Tabloid editors have been offered the snap but none have dared publish it. Cherie can't be that bothered about it because Mirror editor Piers Morgan has assured her that she 'looked good'. I bet she secretly wants the papers to print it. The editor of one tabloid actually boasts to having a blown-up copy of Cherie's boobs hanging on his private office wall.

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