Ouch! The bad taste of the Blairs is shocking, says Sir Terence

You may spend a fortune on hair-dos but your furniture is awful, declares style guru Conran. By Marie Woolf
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Indy Politics

He was once one of Tony Blair's most enthusiastic celebrity supporters, pledging his backing for the Prime Minister's "achievements" in a public letter on the eve of the 2001 election.

But now Sir Terence Conran, doyen of British design, has launched a savage attack on Mr Blair. The critique is not over Iraq, ID cards or city academies. It is much more serious. Sir Terence, whose iconic creations changed the taste of post-war Britain, is beside himself with "shock" at the Blairs' sense of style.

The designer, who almost single-handedly changed the nation's taste when he founded Habitat in the 1960s, and whotransformed the way we eat with his Conran restaurants, declares he is outraged by the "dull and expensive traditional conformity" with which Tony and Cherie Blair have decorated No 10.

Sir Terence says that, unlike President Mitterrand, who "commissioned young designers to create furnishings" for the Elysée Palace, the Blairs are guilty of shockingly bad taste, stuffing No 10 with boring tables and dull, conformist lampshades. The criticisms are made in a letter to today's Independent on Sunday and will be seen in Westminster circles as further proof that Cool Britannia has abandoned Mr Blair.

Worse still for the PM, Sir Terence heaps praise on Gordon Brown, implying that he - with his love of books and simple modern furnishings - is the true heir of good taste. It is a pity, he says, that the Blairs have not kept up, in style at least, with their neighbour.

Sir Terence's comments are likely to be seen as a thinly disguised hint that Mr Blair should call the removal vans, to give Mr Brown the chance to move in and redecorate.

They were prompted by a report in last week's IoS that Mr Blair had spent £127,000 of taxpayers' money on soft furnishings for Downing Street. MPs, alarmed, accused the Blairs of wasting taxpayers' money. But Sir Terence is dismayed at the lack of taste and imagination displayed in their choice of furnishings. The millionaire, whose Conran brand is recognised throughout the world and who represents a dynasty which includes his designer son Jasper and his restaurateur son Tom, writes: "I was really shocked at the dull and expensive traditional conformity that the Blairs have chosen for No 10. Perhaps they are unaware that their next-door neighbour, Gordon, is trying to support the creative industries ...and has persuaded the Treasury to commission the Cox report which demonstrates how the UK can ... retain world leadership in creativity."

Sir Terence bemoans the fact that Mr Blair has failed to lead the way by commissioning young designers himself. He says: "The Cox report suggests that government ... can act as a stimulus to creativity by commissioning innovative products from our best designers." He adds: "Pity that No 10 didn't heed this advice."

Sir Terence, 74, led a list of more than 50 businesspeople to back Tony Blair in a letter to The Times in 2001. He warned "as the general election campaign begins we believe ... businessmen and women should consider the implications for their businesses and employees that a change in government would bring."

But he has recently been more critical of the Prime Minister's policies. He accused Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, of "victimising" his restaurant staff after the immigration service raided two of his establishments - Quaglino's and the Bluebird restaurant in Chelsea.

He also said he was "sickened and appalled" by Mr Blair's handling of the Iraq crisis and "really upset" about university top-up fees.

Yesterday Sir Terence was out of the country, but his spokesman said his letter refers just to the Blairs' taste. "The thing Sir Terence wants to promote is that Gordon Brown is supporting the creative industries. Gordon Brown is so passionate about the creative industries. Isn't it a shame Tony Blair isn't?"

Sir Terence, who was knighted by Margaret Thatcher in 1983, reveals in his letter that he turned down a request from the former prime minister to design a new cabinet table "for her to thump". "I said that she needed a structural engineer rather than a furniture designer," he says.

Blair's Hair: So did he or didn't he?

Did he or didn't he? Tony Blair's tinted locks during last year's election campaign have prompted the question of whether he shared his wife's stylist.

The £7,700 bill presented by Andre Suard to the Labour Party has infuriated activists. The invoice is said to describe the £275-a-day service as "hair styling for Cherie Blair", but French-born Mr Suard is believed also to have tended the prime-ministerial tresses while on the campaign trail. The secrets of Mr Blair's grooming are, alas, likely to remain just that. Neither the stylist nor the party will talk.

Tony Clarke, the former Labour MP for Northampton South narrowly defeated in 2005, said: "The national party spent about £2,000 defending my seat."

Francis Elliott