Clinton aide strengthens Blair's White House link

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Sidney Blumenthal's appointment as a top aide to Bill Clinton has added further lustre to the fast-blossoming relationship between Tony Blair and the American president: the leading liberal journalist is a close friend of both leaders.

A journalist for 27 of his 48 years, with stints at both the New Republic and most lately at Tina Brown's New Yorker and several well-regarded books under his belt, Mr Blumenthal is the latest proof of how the revolving door between politics and the media is spinning as fast as ever in the US.

Early in his first term President Clinton enlisted David Gergen, the moderate conservative columnist, to help sort out his chaotic fledgling administration. Mr Gergen left after clashing with the celebrated George Stephanopoulos - who in turn departed the White House last year for the lucrative and more tranquil pastures of authorship and ABC News.

Now it is Mr Blumenthal's turn. His new post of assistant to the President, which he is due to start next month, will see him deeply involved in policy making and speech writing. Proof of his status, he is being given one of those coveted offices in the West Wing itself, scarcely larger than cubbyholes, but within spitting distance of the Oval Office.

His appointment is another sign of how the "special" is fast returning to the relationship between London and Washington, in the era of New Democrats and New Labour. Not only is the Anglophile Mr Blumenthal one of the dwindling band of Clinton cheerleaders in a largely disillusioned US press corps.

He is also very close to Mr Blair, whom he first met as Shadow Home Secretary before hosting a much noted cocktail party at his home during the Opposition leader's visit to Washington in April 1996, and then writing a highly sympathetic New Yorker profile of Mr Blair that was his introduction to the wider US public.