Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Changing horses

Something the Telegraph found notable yesterday in the rush of news about the Bush visit was the "strikingly low profile" of British prime minister Tony Blair.

While other European leaders may have jostled for media attention and "face time" with the president during yesterday's summits, there were raised eyebrows when, alone of all the major leaders attending both the Nato and EU gatherings, Blair did not answer questions from the thousands of reporters thronging Brussels.

Apparently, he merely delivered a brief statement after a working breakfast with Mr Bush and posed for photographs with the visiting Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko.

The immediate thought here is that Blair has a general election coming and, with a fractious, anti-war left wing, he is anxious to distance himself from Bush.

British officials sniffily rejected such suggestions. How dare the hacks suggest that these "crude electoral considerations" could motivate the great leader – well, the semi-great leader – and impinge upon the purity of the Bush-Blair relationship.

"It's absolute nonsense to suggest the Prime Minister has been adopting a low profile. He has participated very actively in a Nato-Ukraine summit, the US-Nato summit, and the EU," spluttered one official.

However, fresh from the school of “nothing is true in politics until it has been denied”, there has to be some truth in this. Insiders have long been suggesting that Blair’s stance on the China embargo, and his enthusiasm for an EU solution to the Iran problem have everything to do with countering the charge that he is Bush’s poodle.

The trouble is, of course, that if you change horse in mid-stream, there is a very real risk that you get wet – or even worse.

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