Cherie's party in disarray as hunt Bill protesters block roads to Chequers

Extraordinary scenes as demonstrators halt even the band and then ringleaders are invited in for talks with PM
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The glittering party thrown last night by Cherie Blair to celebrate her 50th birthday was thrown into disarray by pro-hunting campaigners who blocked the roads around Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, for several hours.

The glittering party thrown last night by Cherie Blair to celebrate her 50th birthday was thrown into disarray by pro-hunting campaigners who blocked the roads around Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, for several hours.

The protest, staged by several hundred Countryside Alliance supporters, prevented the Blair's high-profile guests from reaching the Berkshire estate, and only ended after two of the leaders were invited inside for a personal discussion with Mr Blair.

Field sports enthusiasts are furious at Mr Blair's recent announcement that fox hunting will be outlawed in the current session of Parliament. An attempt to head off their concerns by delaying the effect of the ban for two years has done little to assuage them.

The proposed delay has also received an angry reception from long-standing opponents of hunting, such as the senior backbench MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who warned the Commons might refuse to accept it. Alun Michael, the Countryside minister, will face an angry meeting of Labour MPs in the Commons tomorrow to try to persuade them to accept Tony Blair's plan to let fox hunting continue for two more years.

The protesters caused three hours of disruption by blocking the main road outside Chequers before dispersing around 9pm.

One protester, Oliver Paul, said that the Blair's band had been prevented from getting in. "There were four of them, they were all dressed quite smartly and the demonstrators wouldn't let them in.

"The police were quite good and then they took them off to find a back entrance but we managed to get a lorry in front of them."

One 16-year-old member of the local pony club said: "We blocked the other entrance and they told us that they were being paid £30,000 to play at this party and we were ruining it."

Two demonstrators were given rapturous applause after they emerged from inside Chequers having spoken to Tony Blair face to face.

Emma Pearce, a master from the Vale of Aylesbury hunt, said that Mr Blair had been cordial. "He understood our point of view and we discussed the different sides, the position he was in and the position we were in."

Held a few days early (her actual birthday is on the 23rd) so that her two sons can attend before they leave for university, the party had been billed as a determinedly "low-key" affair. However, media interest in the event was guaranteed by the expected presence of Carole Caplin, her former "lifestyle guru".

Ms Caplin's return to favour after the fall-out from Cheriegate appears complete, despite damaging claims made by her ex-boyfriend, Peter Foster, the conman who helped to buy Cherie's two Bristol flats. Most guests at last night's event were uncontroversial, ranging from family members, such as her mother, Gale, to friends from the lawyer circuit, where she met her husband.

Some guests were also cabinet members or other senior members of the Government, such as Lord Falconer and his Islington neighbour and advisor, Lord Hart. Garry Hart, who is also godfather to the Blairs' daughter Kathryn, is especially well connected: his wife, Val Davies, is one of Cherie's closest confidantes.

Other guests were expected to include Martha Green, an American restaurant-owner to whom Cherie is close, and Maggie Rae, a lawyer with whom the PM's wife shared a flat before she was married.

A more public party is being planned to launch a book co-written by Mrs Blair on Prime Minister's wives.

The Goldfish Bowl, whose co-authors are billed as Cherie Booth and Cate Haste, promises to hand more presents to her enemies.

A litany of complaints about the treatment of Downing Street spouses is said to include moans about the "dinginess of the accommodation and the lack of a dress allowance". (Ms Haste is the wife of the television arts presenter Melvyn Bragg, and both were expected.)

Nevertheless, Cherie appears determined to make fewer compromises for the sake of her husband as she reaches her 50th birthday. A series of lectures in the US follows the book launch - with claims that she will be receiving £30,000 a lecture.

"One definitely gets the impression that Tony and Cherie have both decided to make less concessions. They feel they have earned the right to be more themselves," said one well-positioned adviser yesterday.

Suggestions that she is keen for her husband to quit his job were yesterday firmly quashed. "If Tony wants to continue, I shall always be there to support him," she said. "I don't think I am hankering after a bungalow just yet."

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