The NUS officer, the PM's son, and a love affair that never was

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Until eight days ago, the name of Luciana Berger would have barely registered beyond the ambitious and often fractious world of student politics.

Until eight days ago, the name of Luciana Berger would have barely registered beyond the ambitious and often fractious world of student politics.

The striking 23-year-old postgraduate had carved out a role as an officer in the National Union of Students, dedicating her time to fighting racial hatred.

But when she stepped down from her post last week, accusing the NUS of ignoring anti-Semitism on university campuses, the furore was sufficient to make national headlines - and attract the full attention of the most fearsome news management machine in British politics.

A fax from Labour Party headquarters to a series of national newspaper editors by 7.30am on Monday suggested Ms Berger, quite apart from her passionately-held stance on growing anti-Semitism, was in the news for misleading reasons.

The terse three-line letter came not from the Labour hierarchy but from the Prime Minister's eldest son, Euan Blair. And rather than dealing with the thorny issues of racial intolerance, it addressed the slightly less lofty subject of Blair Jnr's love life.

To be precise, the document sought to make clear that, contrary to reports, Euan was not romantically involved with Ms Berger.

It said: "I want to make it clear that Luciana Berger is not, and has never been, my girlfriend."

The letter represented the culmination of a complex relationship between the media and Ms Berger, a Labour Party member, in which her much-examined friendship with Euan Blair has made her a minor political celebrity.

The Labour Party did not respond to requests yesterday for an explanation as to why its fax machine was used to distribute Euan Blair's rebuttal.

But it was apparent that frustration at being linked with Ms Berger in newspapers had reached intolerable levels for the ancient history student, who is studying at Bristol University.

The pair met when she delivered an anti-racism lecture in Bristol and they were photographed together in a Brighton nightclub during last year's Labour Party conference - shortly after Euan had split up with his long-term girlfriend.

Ms Berger, from a close-knit Jewish family in north London, yesterday denied that she had encouraged speculation about a romance by failing to deny any relationship with Euan in interviews following her resignation from the NUS national executive.

Earlier this week, she told one newspaper: "Because of the election, I don't want to bring him into this. I'm not going to say if we are friends or not."

By yesterday, however, the postgraduate in government, politics and policy at Birkbeck College in London wished to make clear that any romance had been the creation of febrile media imaginations.

She said: "I have never been and am not currently romantically involved with Euan Blair. That is something which I have made clear throughout but sadly has been ignored. The whole thing has been upsetting.

"It is most unfortunate because it is obscuring the reasons why I resigned from the NUS over the issue of anti-Semitism. I don't want anything to degrade the very important message that we are sending." Whether that message would have achieved such prominence without the linkage to the Blair family remained unclear.

But there can be little argument Ms Berger, who insisted she has yet to decide if she will pursue a career in politics, has not been propelled from the debating floor of the student union to a far wider audience.

The privately educated student, who laughed off claims that her ambition is to become Labour leader, has found herself the subject of 30 newspaper articles in the past eight days, including a long profile in a Sunday broadsheet.

Among the claims made about her, now hotly denied by both sides, were the notion that Ms Berger and Euan Blair have been going out for four months and that she is a regular guest at the No 10 dinner table.

The publicity has also brought attention from unpleasant quarters. At least two newspaper articles about her were last night featured on internet bulletin boards of extreme right-wing groups, including the neo-Nazi Combat 18, which described her as "Euan Blair's jew girlfriend".

Ms Berger was one of three senior NUS members who resigned from its national executive earlier this month, stating they could not work with activists who "turn a blind eye to Jewish student suffering".

The group accused the union's leadership of failing to act over anti-Semitic leaflets distributed at its conference this month not doing enough to intervene in disputes at several institutions over alleged anti-Jewish incidents.

The NUS, which has been at pains to underline its record on tackling racism and anti-Semitism, said that it was investigating the complaints.

Comments