OPINION: With friends like Caplin, who needs enemies?

I have to confess that the Prime Minister's wife never thought a lot of me. I didn't care for her much either, especially as she used to refer to me as an 'oik'.

None of this, of course, has influenced my views on Cherie Booth, who was and remains the greatest political influence on Tony Blair. It was obvious that it was Cherie who was the most influential person in persuading Tony to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party, even though it meant her husband reneging on his promise to Gordon Brown not to stand against him. It is not for nothing that Cherie is called 'Lady Macbeth' in the Treasury. Given her obvious intelligence, the complete mess she has made of her own PR is all the more surprising. Who in their right mind would want to be within a million miles of Carole Caplin?

Even after the whole 'Cheriegate' affair, Cherie still insisted that Carole was 'her trusted friend'. She must have been the only person in Downing Street who did trust her. Did it never occur to the Prime Minister's wife that an adviser who employed their own PR support may prove to be a just a little bit of a liability?

There is little doubt that in today's media world the spouse of the Prime Minister needs PR help and advice. Eventually Cherie realised this and sensibly employed Alastair Campbell's other half to do the job. The problem for Fiona Millar was that Cherie seemed to value the advice of 'her trusted friend' more than Millar's. One result of this was the pictures, eagerly printed by virtually every newspaper, of Carole applying lipstick to Cherie in her bedroom.

As PR disasters go this was pretty big, but not half as bad as 'Cheriegate', which of course involved Carole too. No wonder Alastair wanted her out of the way. The Prime Minister's former spin doctor could see the damage the ex-model could do to his boss, even if Cherie couldn't. They do say that you can judge a person by the friends they keep and in this department, the Prime Minister's wife does not have a very good track record. It was Cherie who invited Peter Mandelson to stay the night at Chequers with his partner, the day after her husband had sacked him for borrowing £350,000 from Geoffrey Robinson.

Now Carole has been unceremoniously dumped by the Blairs, we all eagerly await the book - though the fact that she is supposed to have witnessed rows between Gordon and Tony is hardly revelatory.

One person who won't need to learn any lessons from Cherie's awful PR is the next First Lady, Sarah Brown. Sarah is of course well versed in PR skills but she also has a far more astute political brain than Cherie.

I remember Sarah telling me about Tony's probable plans to run for the leadership of the Labour Party months before anyone else thought it remotely possible. If Gordon had known her well then he would have at least been forewarned.

Sarah wouldn't let a press photographer anywhere near her bedroom, and would certainly not be snapped having makeup slapped on by an ex-model.

At Gordon's party to celebrate 20 years as an MP she wouldn't even let the hacks into their garden.

Sarah may delight in showing guests around the flat in Number 10 but that is only to show them what terrible taste Norma Major had in curtains.

If the next Prime Minister's wife employs anyone to look after her then don't expect anyone remotely like Carole Caplin. It could even be a bloke.

Now there would be an interesting job for an ex-spin doctor.

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