Rainbow Tour puts more pressure on Blair

WHAT a wheeze. Tony and Cherie Blair head off to Australasia and Indonesia to bask in sycophantic antipodean adulation, leaving others to ride out a storm about the Prime Minister's alleged secret “loans for ermine” election fund.

WHAT a wheeze. Tony and Cherie Blair head off to Australasia and Indonesia to bask in sycophantic antipodean adulation, leaving others to ride out a storm about the Prime Minister's alleged secret “loans for ermine” election fund.

And initially, a great time's been had by all down under. Just a little slip about Tony's previous announcement on when he's retiring, but all in all, the Blairs wowed the media - and how they loved the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, with Cherie lustily singing Land of Hope and Glory and hugging nanny Tessa Jowell, who'd also popped over to Melbourne to chill out after all the rumpus over her husband's financial dealings with Silvio Berlusconi.

Fawning all over the Blairs was John Howard, Australia's right of centre prime minister who wouldn't have been out of place in a Margaret Thatcher cabinet. But just like George W. Bush, Mr Howard is in awe and admiration of our Tony's hard line policies on Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

So with a revival of Evita about to hit the West End stage, should we all be joining in a chorus of “Let's hear it for the Rainbow Tour, it's been an incredible success!”?


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You'll recall that more than 50 years ago, when Eva Peron set out to woo Europe, she was greeted with enthusiasm in Spain by fascist General Franco, leading to Peronista jubilation back in Buenos Aires - the public relations exercise to fool Argentina that the world loved its president and first lady was going to plan.

Unfortunately, it went downhill thereafter. The polite indifference of Pope Pius XII in the Vatican was followed by hostility in Rome and Paris still suffering the fallout of World War II and, under the guise of illness, the London leg was cancelled through fear of being snubbed by the royal family.

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So has the Tony and Cherie Rainbow Tour been an incredible success? Err, no - New Zealand was a nightmare. Tony lectured the nations of the planet on how they must do more to combat climate change while back home, his own government had to own up to not meeting its targets following the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse emissions.

It might have been a good stunt to fly non-stop to Melbourne in a Boeing 777 with just 50 passengers and 21 airline staff on board, but when it was revealed that the round trip created more than 250 tons of fossil fuels, it made rather a nonsense of Tony's New Zealand sermon.

While the cat was away, the mice started playing. Lord Levy, the Prime Minister's fund-raiser, said he was only acting under orders in tapping up rich businessmen for loans. Scotland Yard refuses to rule out prosecutions. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had to angrily deny newspaper reports linking a planning approval in Croydon with donations to Labour.

In the Commons, Blairite Alan Milburn sniped at Gordon Brown's Budget, complaining that the Chancellor's 80-20 society - where 80% of people do well but 20% are left behind - “should not be good enough for us.” That's a clear hint that Mr Milburn is gearing up to run for Labour leader against Gordon when Tony does go.

And in a startling admission, education minister and Harlow MP said Labour has taxed people to “the limit” and the public was not prepared to hand over any more of their money to pay for public services.

Let's hear it for the Rainbow Tour, it's been an incredible success . . .

PROCEEDINGS in Parliament have absolute privilege, enabling newspapers to report potentially libelous remarks without fear of prosecution. Labour MP Martin Salter asked Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to consider introducing legislation “to force political parties to reveal all their sources of funding, say, prior to the last three general elections. That would show us exactly how much of the £1m donated by the Chinese heroin baron Ma Sik-Chun in 1994 was used to fund the Conservative party printing press in Reading.”

Very interesting. As Prescott replied: “It does sound like a Chinese takeaway problem.”

The Tories have yet to name the individuals who secretly have loaned them cash, rather than publicly donating it. Ex-Chancellor Kenneth Clarke says he is “very suspicious” of any loan to a political party. “I think the whole thing is a very, very serious constitutional scandal.”

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“As she has rattled out the endless statistics about the health service in the past few months, I have been reminded of Madam Ceaucescu announcing massive increases in potato production in Romania.”

- West Suffolk MP Richard Spring in the Commons, referring to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

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AGRICULTURE took centre stage this week when Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett and her deputy Lord Bach became the latest ministers to refuse to accept responsibility for a cock-up in their department.

Mrs Beckett, who had been forced to the Commons to answer an emergency question, spoke of her “deep regret” over the failure to meet the target for making single payments to farmers after ministers had promised that the bulk of the new payments, replacing previous subsidies, would be paid by the end of this month.

The chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which is responsible for the scheme, was replaced earlier this month when it became known this would not happen.

Shadow spokesman James Paice - MP for Cambridgeshire South-East - snapped: “I hope you are embarrassed at the very least, or ashamed, that this has happened.”

Mr Paice said problems with the scheme had been obvious but ministers accused those warning of them that they were scaremongering. "If ministers were misled by the chief executive of the RPA, it is right that he should go. But that doesn't absolve ministers from this catalogue of incompetence and ministerial denial.”

Rejecting any charge of ministerial complacency, Mrs Beckett said Mr Paice had been “unjust” to Lord Bach, who “has spent days working on this over many, many months”.

In Lords exchanges on the issue, Tory environment spokesman Baroness Byford - a Suffolk farmer - noted that some MPs had called for Lord Bach's resignation. “No doubt you will consider your own position, but clearly the responsibility lies with the Secretary of State herself.”

Lord Bach angrily retorted: “I have to say that we take our responsibilities extremely seriously and I think your remarks were a little bit cheap.”

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