| Aide agony: Cherie Blair
Downing Street rejected claims last night of a new “court feud” at No 10 over the role of Cherie Blair’s “lifestyle guru” Carole Caplin after it emerged that an adviser to the Prime Minister’s wife is to quit her job.
Fiona Millar, girlfriend of Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s director of communications, has told friends she intends to leave her post with the Prime Minister’s wife later this year. Millar, who has worked for Cherie Blair since 1995, is known to have a strained relationship with Caplin who advises on health, fitness and style issues. Weekend reports suggested Millar’s decision to quit in the autumn was related to Blair’s continuing friendship with Caplin.
When the so-called Cheriegate scandal involving Caplin’s boyfriend, Peter Foster, erupted last year, there were even rumours of a fall-out between Millar and her boss.
Campbell’s relations with the Blairs were also placed under strain.
Many Downing Street officials had hoped the Cheriegate episode — in which Cherie Blair received help from Foster, a convicted fraudster, when buying two flats in Bristol — would persuade her to end her links with Caplin. But the friendship remained strong. Ever since there has been talk of a power struggle between Millar and Caplin.A spokesperson rejected suggestions of tension in the Downing Street inner circle. “Fiona Millar continues to do an important job for Cherie. She gets on extremely well with both Mr and Mrs Blair. Talk of a power struggle is an absurd joke.”
News of Millar’s departure follows an announcement last week by Godric Smith, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, that he will also go this year.
Smith was left to deal with the media at the time of Cheriegate, a thankless task given the way Cherie Blair changed her story during the controversy. Smith however insists the scandal did not affect his decision to go.
Millar, a former journalist, has said that she wants to spend more time with her three children and to return to writing. Some in Downing Street fear her departure will remove a restraining influence on Caplin and allow her to increase her influence over the Blairs.
According to a recent poll conducted by the BBC, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair is the person Britons most wanted to be kicked out of the country after her links to a convicted conman were exposed in the recent “Cheriegate” affair.
In a tongue-in-cheek BBC survey drawing 15,000 votes, Cherie Blair topped the hall of shame with 31 per cent after damaging revelations last month about her property dealings with a convicted fraudster dominated headlines and embarrassed the government. Cherie Blair, a high profile barrister, saw her public support tumble in December as the media focused relentlessly on details of how Peter Foster helped her buy two flats in Bristol, southwest England.
The BBC radio current affairs programme Today, which carried out the poll, said in a statement: “It has not been a good year-end for the Prime Minister’s wife.” In a parallel vote on who they wanted to see named honorary Britons, 51 per cent went for Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from 19 months of house arrest in May.
Former US President Bill Clinton came second with 18 per cent. Saddam Hussein — recently deposed in a US-led war with active British participation — came fifth on the list of favourites for British citizenship with 7 per cent of the vote.
On the deportation vote, Cherie Blair narrowly beat the London-based radical Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri — accused by the US government of being linked to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network.