London, Dec. 13 (Reuters): The British government is starting to sustain damage from Cherie Blair’s dealings with a convicted Australian conman, a story that refuses to die.
Westminster sources describe a paralysis among Prime Minister Tony Blair’s team as they struggle to douse “Cheriegate” — a scandal over his wife accepting help from fraudster Peter Foster to buy property.
Opinion polls show the public not only do not believe Britain’s First Lady but think the government’s standing has been hurt by a saga that has rumbled on for nearly two weeks.
A story that could have been defused by an early admission — nobody alleges Cherie acted illegally — has turned into a major headache as facts have been dragged out inch by inch.
Even Blair’s spokesman admitted it had been mishandled. “I’m not... pretending to you that this has been a model of good handling by the government,” he said.
Foster helped Cherie buy two apartments in southwest England, where her eldest son is at college, but the government press office denied Foster had been involved and Cherie admitted it only after leaked e-mail traffic showed he had assisted.
Even after a tearful apology from Cherie earlier this week, new allegations have emerged, with the government — having already unwittingly misled journalists — struggling to keep up.
Only one in three voters polled by today’s Guardian newspaper fully believed the high-flying lawyer’s explanation that she had contacted Foster’s lawyer only to reassure her friend Carole Caplin about deportation proceedings against him.
Caplin, Cherie’s lifestyle guru and Foster’s girlfriend, says she gave legal papers on the case to barrister Cherie but that she refused to read them.