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Sunday 18 May 2008

That's just too much information, Cherie

Ruth Dudley Edwards finds Cherie Blair's tales of her contraceptive issues excruciatingly inappropriate

I am no fan of Cherie Blair, whom I've always found pushy, greedy, self-pitying and vulgar, which is probably why a publisher was prepared to give her a £1m advance for her memoirs and The Times (is anyone out there old enough to remember when that was a respectable newspaper?) coughed up six figures to run extracts of the most toe-curling bits.

To be fair to Cherie, New Labourites are not known for such fuddy-duddy attributes as decorum and discretion. Lord Levy, a pop impresario who got into trouble owing to his ingenuity as the party's chief fundraiser, has written memoirs assailing innumerable ex-colleagues for "hanging me out to dry".

Tony Blair's deputy prime minister, John Prescott, was so keen to market his autobiography that he chronicled explicitly his long struggle with bulimia -- and yes, the jokes about his being the fattest bulimiac in town have been already been made.

Cherie brought forward publication of her book by several months because of fears that its sales would be damaged if Gordon Brown fell at the autumn Labour Party Conference. Judging by the extracts, her husband has prevailed on her to be relatively discreet about his successor lest he be accused of using her as an attack-dog, but he can't have had much influence on the rest of what we've seen of this dreadful book.

Am I antediluvian to find it excruciatingly inappropriate for an ex-prime minister's wife to write the following sentence apropos celebrating her 45th birthday at a legal course: 'Sitting there, raising a glass of champagne, there was only one little shadow on my immediate horizon: my period. Where was it?'?

Does this mother of four who never hesitated to call in her learned friends to defend her family's privacy really think eight-year-old Leo will be thrilled that his pals now know that he was conceived at Balmoral because his mother didn't want the royal servants unpacking her contraceptive equipment? (Why could she not put this equipment in her handbag? What was it? An iron chastity belt?)

Even John Prescott -- presently an enthusiastic warrior in the marketing battle of the three memoirists -- has given it as his considered opinion that "he didn't think it was 'right' for Mrs Blair to 'talk about taking condoms to Balmoral'." And I won't even mention the story of Leo, a full nappy and his mother's hairdresser.

Consider the following. At a gala event at the Royal Opera House, Cherie is chatting to Princess Margaret about the performance when a Cabinet Minister comes over.

"Have you met Chris Smith, our Culture Secretary, Ma'am?" I asked.

She peered at him.

"And this is his partner," I continued.

"Partner for what?"

"I took a breath. "Sex, Ma'am."

She stalked off. She knew exactly what kind of partner I meant. She was just trying to catch me out.

Why couldn't the bloody woman have said "Life, Ma'am"? Princess Margaret had many failings, but she had a bohemian side and had gay friends. She obviously couldn't take this in-your-face crassness.

How can Tony Blair, who knows how to behave, feel about this? "Perhaps it was the smell of [Tony's] skin, the piercing blue eyes that seemed to see right through me, to the extent that I could feel a blush rise up from some unchartered part of me."

He may perhaps be flattered that the nation has been told that "I fancied him rotten and still do", but is he not the teeniest bit uncomfortable at having the circumstances of their first night together revealed?

Could he feel a bit unhappy that Cherie trashes the reputation of his mentor, Derry Ervine (later Lord Chancellor), with tales of his drunkenness, when it is clear she's really angry because he rated her husband more highly than herself.

Last week I read a timely, brief and very readable tract for our times by the formidable British cultural warrior Peter Whittle. In Look at Me: Celebrating the Self in Modern Britain, he writes of how a contempt for core values has produced a society in which people no longer think they have to earn respect.

Now, Cherie, the hard-working lawyer and loving wife and mother, does deserve respect, but her book shows her to be an enthusiastic participant in the 'I-say-what-I-like-and-do-what-I-like-bec- ause-that's-me-innit?' society. Leaving Number 10 for the last time, although Blair had begged her to be dignified, Cherie couldn't resist being rude to the press.

She felt bad about it briefly, but then he grinned, 'because he loves me. Because he knows that I just couldn't help myself.'

For God's sake, the woman is a judge, with ambitions to rise to the top. Judges are supposed to be discreet.

She has, I hope, blown her chances in that regard, but we can be sure she will loudly blame any career setbacks on snobbery and misogyny rather than her own gross behaviour.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards