Barbadian leader honeymoons in Birmingham (while Blair holidays on his Caribbean island)

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Indy Politics

For the Prime Ministers of Britain and Barbados, the past week will go down as the ultimate lifestyle-swap. As Tony Blair lapped up the sun at Cliff Richard's Caribbean holiday villa, his opposite number, the Rt Hon Owen Seymour Arthur, was enjoying a romantic honeymoon - on the rainswept streets of Birmingham.

Mr Arthur and his bride, Julie, who married in Bridgetown on 12 August, used their first foreign tour as man and wife to enjoy a mini-break in England's second city.

In place of a barbecue on the white-sand beaches of their home country, the happy couple spent Monday visiting the city centre, before a reception at the grandly-named Mayor's Suite of Birmingham Council House. Then the 56-year-old Prime Minister whisked his bride off on a whistle-stop tour of the working-class suburb of Aston.

"We left Tony Blair behind in Barbados, enjoying his break away from the hurly-burly of British politics," he informed his delighted hosts. "It's marvellous to be here, and Birmingham is a charming city. I know your weather hasn't been too good recently, but we've had a real warm welcome from the Birmingham people. Britain is as good a place as any to have a honeymoon."

Mr and Mrs Arthur and their six-year-old daughter, Leah, found themselves there due to a longstanding diary commitment that pre-dated their decision to tie the knot. Five per cent of Birmingham's population is from the Caribbean, and Barbadian politicians are trying to forge closer links with the city.

"Birmingham wouldn't be the place I would choose for a honeymoon, but you've got to remember that for him, coming from the Caribbean, it's quite a grand thing coming to the UK," said Pastor Calvin Young, who entertained the Arthurs. "There's a lot of historic ties, and in many ways it is the equivalent of us taking a honeymoon in Barbados." Before this week, Mr Arthur had only visited the West Midlands once since taking office in 1994, when he watched the 2002 Ryder Cup at the Belfry.

His return trip was arranged to allow a meeting with Barbadian expats. The visit also afforded an opportunity to catch up with an old chum: Birmingham's council leader, Mike Whitby, who recently enjoyed his own official tour of Barbados.

"I would like to congratulate Mr Arthur on his recent marriage and commend his inspirational choice of honeymoon location," said Mr Whitby, after taking the couple on a tour of the ornate 19th-century Council Hall. "As far as I'm concerned, the climate here is appealing to everybody, and for a newly-wed Prime Minister to choose Birmingham for this trip is a reflection of how friendly and welcoming this city is."

Mr Arthur's trip to Birmingham is part of a week-long visit to the UK. As leader of the Barbadian Labour Party, he was eager to pay homage to a political hero. "He waxed lyrical in our conversation about his great admiration for Roy Jenkins, who was a Birmingham MP," said Jo Aldred, chairman of the Council of Black-led Churches, and a guest at the official reception. "Jenkins was a commissioner for the EU, and Mr Arthur is doing a similar thing for Caribbean islands."

The Barbadian leader and his bride were presented with two wedding presents at the official reception, which was otherwise a relatively modest affair.

Jo Aldred added: "There were around 30 of us there. There was a small amount of food and drink on offer, but it was wine and orange juice rather than champagne. A few nibbles were also passed around.

"It was all very friendly though. In his speech, the Prime Minister told a joke that made everyone laugh. He said that he was looking forward to finally consummating his marriage in Birmingham."

Head-to-head

Barbados

Population: 280,000

Climate: Temperatures in the low-to mid-20s in winter; 30s in summer. Average rainfall is around 40 inches a year, most of which comes in the form of tropical storms.

Attractions: Sun, sea, and fine white sandy beaches.

Local expressions: "Chill out, man"

Birmingham

Population: 1,000,000

Climate: Average temperature of 20C in summer and 4C in winter. Average rainfall is 26 inches a year, most of which falls in drizzle.

Attractions: The Mailbox shopping centre; the "Balti triangle", an Indian restaurant district.

Local expressions: "Yalroight babe?" (Are you all right, babe?)

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