Lady Ashton... well, at least she's not Tony

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The Independent Online

As Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the European Union's new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, this weekend surveys her grand suite of offices, with a special corner for her life-sized Dalek, she might still be wondering how on earth she got there.

On Thursday night, a bunch of seasonal flowers was thrust into her hand and she found herself pawed by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy and Javier Solana, the EU's current foreign affairs chief.

Was it Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, doing it for the sisterhood? An Anglo-French stitch-up to ensure the French got an economic brief? A Franco-German stitch-up to ensure no one towered over President Sarkozy? Or – and let's face it, this was probably the main reason – no one in Europe could stomach the return of Tony Blair?

We at The Independent on Sunday would like to submit a gentle reminder that, six weeks ago, when Mr Blair's hopes were still very much alive, this newspaper launched a campaign to stop the former prime minister getting the £320,000-a-year job.

Readers, politicians and diplomats told us that the man responsible for dividing Europe over the Iraq war could not possibly unite the bloc under his presidency.

So, in effect, Lady Ashton, it was the IoS wot won it.

Lady Ashton, 53, who is married to the pollster Peter Kellner and has three stepchildren and two children, became the EU trade commissioner to make way for Peter Mandelson's return to the Cabinet a year ago.

While Herman van Rompuy is the new EU president, Lady Ashton will hold the real power by commanding 120 EU embassies around the world and Brussels' £7bn overseas aid budget.

Her own salary will be £193,000, but she will also enjoy an annual accommodation allowance of £36,000 and an entertainment budget of £10,000. No need to thank us, Lady Ashton.

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