Labour unveils New Model Northern Tony

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The Independent Online
So, it's official. Sun-dried tomatoes are not Tony Blair's favourite food. There is nothing the Labour leader likes more, according to yesterday's Sun newspaper, than fish and chips in front of the TV.

In fact, if the latest spin from Labour's Millbank Tower media centre is to be believed, Tony forsakes Islington each weekend to rush up North for beery "haway-the-lads" sessions in the working men's club after the footie.

Puzzled north Londonites who have taken the Blairs to their hearts will naturally be hurt by the revelations. Whatever happened to the Tony who wrested the Labour leadership from Gordon Brown over dinner in Granita, one of Islington's trendiest restaurants? They may well ask. This Tony, the Sun's Tony, is a very different kettle of fish. This Tony is definitely more cod and mushy peas than pan-fried sea bream with roasted peppers and rocket.

There is only one explanation: there are two Tonys and two Cheries. While most of us were sniggering over the gossip-column snippets about Southern Cherie being photographed in that pounds 300 jumper outside that fancy north London deli, the Northern Blairs were happily ensconced up in Sedgfield, Co Durham.

"It's fantastic up there," Northern Tony gushed yesterday to the Sun about his constituency. "The place we can really relax. We often pop down to the local chippie and get a fish and chip supper, my favourite, which we'll eat in front of the TV."

There are some tensions, of course. Tony supports Newcastle United but his 13-year-old son Euan is a Liverpool fan and 11-year-old Nicky prefers Manchester United. Still, at least none of the kids has been seduced by any of those poofy southern sides. Northern Tony loves to slump in front of the television. He says Gladiators is his favourite show, but he adds: "Now it's whatever happens to be on, sometimes You Bet! or Noel's House Party.

"We're all big EastEnders fans too but at the moment I'm usually only home in time to catch the last 10 minutes so the kids have to fill me in."

We can only speculate on what Southern Tony likes to watch on the television. The South Bank Show, perhaps? Newsnight, definitely.

He may be too busy to watch the box much at all, though, what with all those trips to Granita and to Frederick's, the swanky Islington eaterie where Southern Cherie chose to celebrate her 40th birthday.

There are few chips on the menu at the Islington Blairs'. In fact the family are regularly seen lunching at Pizza Express while at home they like to entertain high-flying friends and - horror of horrors - are said to prefer pasta. There is a lot of theatre to get through, as well. Southern Cherie lists the arts among her interests in Who's Who, along with keeping in shape at the top-flight Albany fitness club near her home.

Interestingly, Southern Tony does not have a Who's Who entry at all. Under "Blair, Anthony Lynton Charles," resides a man who lives in Trimdon, Co Durham, and whose club is the Trimdon Colliery and Deaf Hill Working Men's.

This man is definitely the real MP for Sedgefield. In fact, that Tony Blair has never claimed to be anyone else. Even the badly typed CV with which he introduced himself to the local Labour Party in 1983 said he was a Northerner through and through. Sure, he went to Oxford and trained as a barrister in London, but he certainly did not go to Fettes public school in Edinburgh. At least, if he did he never mentioned it.

"I have always wanted to come back to the North-east to represent the community here," his resume explained. "I would, of course, live in the constituency. Cherie's work, unlike mine, could transfer to the North."

The Sun certainly prefers Northern Tony. "At first glance Labour leader Tony Blair appears to have little in common with the man in the street ... [but] take a look past the stuff which bedazzles and he seems as down- to-earth as anyone in his position could be," its reporter comments. Today the paper follows up its scoop with a truly Northern romance: "When Tony met Cherie - the Blair love story."

Stan Barstow, eat your heart out.