Life's too short Tony - and stressful

THE almost hysterical insistence from Downing Street that there's nothing wrong with Tony Blair's health does nobody, least of all the Prime Minister, any favours.

THE almost hysterical insistence from Downing Street that there's nothing wrong with Tony Blair's health does nobody, least of all the Prime Minister, any favours.

"He's perfectly fine and getting on with his job," Mr Blair's official spokesman said yesterday. It was revealed that on Wednesday evening, just hours after his plans for the next 12 months were outlined in the Queen's speech, the PM suffered acute stomach pains and had to be attended by a doctor.

This followed his admission to hospital in late October for treatment of an irregular heartbeat.

Desperate to play down any hint that he is anything less than 100%, Mr Blair goes to great lengths to emphasise that he is carrying on regardless, keeping fit by undergoing a strict regime at the gym.

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If the likely cause of his two recent minor problems is stress, there's no shame is admitting it. We all suffer from this modern malaise – and we should all take time off work to unwind. But most of us don't, believing nobody can cope without us, leading to even worse problems in later life.

Mr Blair does himself or his young family, his Government, and his party no favours by such a dismissive "I'm okay" cavalier attitude. He has a highly stressful job and it's no surprise it might be catching up with him after 6½ years in Downing Street.

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And no number of image consultants and spin-doctors can gloss over that he's 6½ years older than when he became Prime Minister. Admittedly he's younger than the age when most previous office holders have been elected, but the pressures of modern life and media glare were never around in the days of Gladstone, Atlee, or even Harold Wilson.

THE on-going camp by protestors against Government policy in the Middle East, which has been set up in Parliament Square opposite the House of Commons, is upsetting members of the Lords

After a number of peers called for the camp to be dismantled, Suffolk's Lord Marlesford (Conservative) said it was not people protesting that was objectionable but the permanent camp, which was unoccupied at night.

"I cannot see any reason why the impedimenta should not be removed when abandoned in the evening, either by the people who have got it, by the police or by other authorities."

But Lord Dholakia (Labour) believed that demonstration placards and pamphlets in Parliament Square "are an expression of our tolerance and democratic values," adding: "All the visitors that I have met have marvelled at the patience of the British people in tolerating the situation in Parliament Square."

SHE'S being touted as the great hope for the Tory future. If all the party's hype about her is to be believed, television presenter turned business entrepreneur Esther McVey is about to storm Westminster and become the acceptable face of Conservatism.

We'll see – there's the little matter first of overturning a Labour majority of 4,035 in the seat she's been selected to fight, Wirrall West. Stephen Hesford, who once contested Suffolk South for Labour, swept to victory in 1997 in what until then had been a safe Tory heartland.

Esther herself is slightly embarrassed about all this New Tory image with which she is being burdened. "You might have been told that, but you'll never hear me saying it," she says in a Liverpool drawl which would certainly make a major change from the soft southern middle and upper class accents to be found languishing on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons.

"Image has always been important – today it's even more so. The media concentrate on personalities and what journalists think the public wants.

"It'll be hard work in Wirrall West, no doubt about that," says Esther, who turned up at the Colchester Officers' Club last week to talk to North Essex constituency Tory women. "But I'm in it to win. Labour's been in power for six years and can't keep blaming the Conservatives for the ills of the country.

"Labour's honeymoon period is over. Now it has to stand up and be counted."

Ms McVey certainly charmed the ladies of North Essex last week. But where are the Tory women fighting winnable seats in East Anglia? Braintree, Harwich, and Colchester all opted for men and unless Ipswich Tories choose Sian Dawson tomorrow from their shortlist of three, the paucity of females possibly ending up in the Commons representing this region will remain.

The Conservatives have just two women MPs – Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) and Gillian Shephard (Norfolk South-West), while Labour has Angela Smith (Basildon), Anne Campbell in Cambridge and a couple over in Hertfordshire. The Liberal Democrats are even worse – two MPs, no women.

Perhaps Anne Jenkin, redoubtable wife of North Essex MP Bernard who has emerged from her self-imposed political purdah now that Michael Howard has become Tory leader, should do what everyone has been urging her for years and stand for Parliament herself.

IPSWICH Conservatives meet tomorrow morning to choose a General Election candidate from the three short-listed by the executive commiittee.

Although Conservative Party officials in the constituency have refused to name or release details of those selected for final interview, I understand they are Paul West, Sian Dawson and Bennett Northcote.

Mr West, who is married and lives in the town, is a property management consultant and former borough councillor. He fought the parliamentary by-election in November 2001, halving Labour's majority in the process.

Ms Dawson, a councillor in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, works in the insurance business specialising in political risks such as kidnap, ransom and terrorism. A professional botanical illustrator, she was educated in Suffolk and is one of the Tory Party's candidates for the East region in next year's European Parliamentary elections.

No doubt Mr Northcote is well known in Tory Party circles, but alas I could find no information about him.

AN all-party committee of MP's and Peers – including Ipswich MP Chris Mole – has told the Government that its proposals for standardising contingency planning and modernising emergency powers have potentially dangerous flaws.

Dr Lewis Moonie, chairman of the committee set up to examine and report on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill Committee, said: "In defining emergency powers, the Government has come up with a one-size-fits-all Bill for every possible scenario.

"We are concerned that as a result, the draft Bill does not provide adequate

safeguards to protect against the misuse of emergency powers. In the wrong

hands, it could be used to undermine or even remove legislation underpinning

the British Constitution and infringe human rights."

The draft Bill defines an emergency as an event which presents a `serious'

threat to human welfare, the environment, political, administrative, or

economic stability and the security of the UK or part of it.

"We believe that the definition is too subjective and loose, especially in part two where it could trigger substantial emergency powers," says Dr Moonie. "We suggest that key terms such as `serious,' `essential' and `stability' must be defined within the Bill."

COLCHESTER Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell queued overnight on Tuesday outside the Commons Vote Office to lodge the first Early Day Motion of the new parliamentary session. The 15 hour wait was worth it for the topicality of the EDM's subject, congratulating the England team on winning the Rugby World Cup.

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