In Britain they’re already calling it Cheriegate: Cherie Booth, aka Mrs. Tony Blair, is in hot water for taking an interest in the deportation proceedings of a convicted Australian fraudster named Peter Foster. This spells trouble for her and her spouse. The Times of London puts it ominously: “The disclosure that the Prime Minister’s wife had involved herself in the case against the man who, only days earlier, was helping her to negotiate the purchase of two flats in Bristol was the most damaging yet to hit Mrs Blair, the Downing Street machine and the Prime Minister.”
Foster, the boyfriend of Mrs. Blair’s friend and “life-style guru” (as the racier Mirror calls her) Carole Caplin, had offered to help the Blairs buy some apartments in Bristol last month—for which he negotiated a £69,000 (roughly $97,183) discount, according to the Australian. On Nov. 22, shortly after the real estate deal, Blair called the law firm handling Foster’s deportation; she says she wanted to reassure Caplin that all was being handled properly and insists that at the time of the apartment deal, she didn’t know Foster was being deported.
The disreputable Foster “boasted to business associates that barrister Mrs Blair was going to arrange for someone from her chambers to improve his public standing” reports the Guardian, but that never panned out. Foster’s lawyers did contact Blair’s firm, Matrix (which is much better-known than the one Foster had retained), to inquire about the possibility, but Matrix declined to help.
The Australian Age of Melbourne muddies the waters further, saying, “An Australian lawyer and associate of Mr Foster, Sean Cousins, said it was inconceivable Mrs Blair was unaware of Mr Foster’s past when she met him. ‘I am reliably informed that both Miss Caplin and Mrs Blair were well informed of who he was and his past,’ he said.” Cherie Blair insists she knew Foster had a checkered past but was ignorant of the details.
The seedier side of the fracas comes out in the News of the World, which claims that Blair took fashion, metaphysical, and possibly sex advice from Caplin, “a former topless model” whom the tabloidlike papers paint as a sort of bosomy Rasputin.
The PM tried to brush off the furor as a tempest in a teapot. “This is just part of what comes with the territory nowadays,” he said to the Times. “This type of media frenzy will come and it will go.”
But opposition sharks have been swift to attack this juicy chum. Tory leaders spoke out vociferously against Mrs. Blair, who also sits on the bench as a judge. MP Edward Garnier said, “She can’t have had a telephone conversation without knowing about the background to Mr Foster. I do think her position as a recorder will lead to, shall we say, discomfort at the Lord Chancellor’s Department. They won’t like this story, they won’t like the embarrassment that it causes.” The Sydney Morning Herald states, “The Conservative Opposition leader, Iain Duncan Smith, has asked Mr Blair to explain why Mrs Blair used money from the family’s blind trust to buy the flat. The trusts are used by ministers so they do not know where their money is being invested.”
Echoing similar treatment of Hillary Clinton during the Whitewater scandal, virtually every paper talking about Cheriegate uses what can only be described as singularly unprepossessing photographs of Mrs. Blair. Check out these photos from the Herald, News of the World, and the Telegraph. Only the Times refrained from using a ghastly picture.