OPINION: Performer Cherie puts on a polished media act

If Cherie Blair's obviously well-prepared 'clear the air' statement at a charity function on Tuesday tells us anything, it is that she genuinely earns her vast barrister's income - she knows how to perform to an audience.Plenty of people watching her speech will have a had sympathy for this busy career woman and Prime Ministerial consort struggling to keep so many balls in the air at once.

But like many others in Westminster, I am not convinced. The central, and potentially the most damaging, allegation remains in place - that she was speculating in the property market through an ostensiblyblind trust on a scale most people in the UK can only dream of. And that she fibbed to cover this up.

So what on earth has happened to the New Labour media machine? Tony Blair's chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell apparently resorted to spinning against Cherie, and his own partner, Fiona Millar - who still advises Cherie - has washed her hands of the whole scandal.

I confess to not being one of Mrs Blair's fans, which isn't surprising given that she refers to me as an 'oik'. The other day at a party, she butted into a conversation I was having with the political editor of The Sun and asked if she could have a word. 'Not in front of him,' she snorted.

My crime, it seems, was that when I first worked for Gordon Brown I thought the then Shadow Chancellor might make a better leader of the Labour Party than her husband. I still hold that view and events over the past few weeks have only confirmed my belief.

Until the weekend Blair had managed to avoid the scandal around his wife, but as always in politics it's money and greed that have now embroiled him in it. Previously, when the issue of his 'blind' trusts have come up, Blair simply denied any knowledge of who was funding it. I know for a fact he was aware Geoffrey Robinson gave money to his office in opposition, but when Robinson became involved in a scandal Blair simply denied it. He even claimed that he knew nothing of the £275,000 loan from Robinson to his mate Peter Mandelson. Even Blair can't get away with claiming not to know that his wife used their blind trust to buy not one, but two, £250,000 flats.

It remains to be seen where this scandal will end, but it's ironic that if Cherie had not been so mean in refusing to pay for a proper press officer then she and her husband probably wouldn't be in this mess. Millar is paid for by the taxpayer to do a non-PR job in Downing Street, and although she still helps Mrs Blair out, she doesn't deal with the media on a day-to-day basis.

Given the press interest in the first lady, not to have a full-time media manager is bonkers. What is interesting is that Cherie manages to fork out for Carole Caplin to advise her on what colour lipstick she should wear, but won't pay for a press officer.

A half-decent PR minder would have advised her to tell the truth to the Daily Mail in the first place, avoiding the whole scandal. Instead, staff at the Number 10 press office came away from a conversation with her with an inaccurate summary of events, which was duly relayed to the lobby.

When this scandal has gone away the Downing Street press operation will have to sort itself out. They will have to tell Campbell, if he is still there, that under no circumstances will they ever brief on behalf of the Prime Minister's wife. She will have to hire a proper press officer, which she can easily afford, though there is a case to be made for the state paying. The press, after all, are only interested in her because of who she is married to, even though she likes to think otherwise.

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