Bruce Anderson: The Jowell affair is deeply damaging, for it shows that Blairites live in a different world

Mr Blair would not have ordered Mrs Jowell to leave her husband without first clearing it with God
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The Independent Online

You would need a heart of stone not to laugh. A lot of guff has been written about the Jowell-Mills affair. The most blatant inaccuracy was the claim that Tessa Jowell was a potential deputy prime minister. This is nonsense. One of the dimmest members of the Blair Cabinet - which is saying a lot - she is not even as clever as John Prescott, though at least her first language is English, not dog-growl.

A few years ago, I was on the radio with Mrs Jowell. Not exactly Any Questions, it was the sort of programme which would command a four-figure audience in the Greater London area alone. Yet she was constantly riffling through her cue-cards, desperate to ensure that she always uttered the right platitude.

That is why Tony Blair likes her: not for her intellect, but for her obedience. The PM wants male ministers who are so invertebrate that they will go on licking his boots even while he is kicking their backsides. His ideal female will always look wholesome while nodding and smiling at the right moments (he does not get that at home). Tessa Jowell is perfect. She is never off message. When she is made a Peer, the motto for her crest should be, "always on message". Long before Dolly the sheep was cloned, New Labour had already produced Dolly the Blair babe. Tessa Jowell is a fine example.

Unlike her husband. I have not met him, but friends who have all say the same: not quite 16 annas to the rupee. Some of his testimony is incredible, especially the claim that the Italian police coerced him into signing an untrue statement. Come off it; this is a lawyer married to a government minister and he was being questioned by a police force which is used to deferring to persons with influence.

A friend of mine was once strolling across a pedestrianised square in Rome, when he was nearly run over by a sprightly little blonde in a speedy little Alfa-Romeo. By chance, a senior-looking policeman was nearby, so my chum complained. "Unfortunately, sir, there is nothing we can do," came the reply: "that is the minister for employment's mistress". "My brother is the British Minister for Industry" "Oh, sir, I do apologise. (pause). Don't worry: someone will have a word with the minister."

If Mr Mills had nothing to conceal, he would have been demanding to see lawyers and the British ambassador while deafening the room with the names of his close friends throughout the higher reaches of the Blair government. As David Mills chose to make a statement, there is only one conclusion. He did not fall victim to coercion but to good detective work.

To whom or what did the Mills/Jowell marriage fall victim? Just because Number 10 is hotly denying that it played any part, we should not automatically assume that it instructed the couple to separate. This is not a tactic which the Blairites often employ. It would only be the second time that they had done so. There are limits to the commands which the most spineless ministers will accept from their pagers. But we can be sure on one point. Mr Blair would not have ordered Mrs Jowell to leave her husband without first clearing it with God.

Nor do we yet know whether the separation is a mere reculer pour mieux sauter. During the 1988 US Presidential election, it was revealed that the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, was a member of various clubs in Texas in which persons of colour would only arrive via the servants' entrance. When this was made public, the Senator immediately resigned from his clubs. When he was not elected vice-president, he immediately re-joined them. The Bentsen clubs, the Jowell/Mills marriage? We shall see.

Over the next few days, we shall also learn more about Mrs Jowell's involvement in her husband's affairs, although we already know enough to reach the obvious conclusion. We can accept that ministers are hard worked. No doubt Mr Mills would have chosen an especially busy and distracted moment to present his papers for signature. Even so, there were too many signatures, two much money, too much greed. It is inconceivable that Tessa Jowell can remain a minister and hope to be taken seriously. Only a Prime Minister who has never taken most of his ministers seriously could possibly disagree.

If Tony Blair's political antennae were still working, she would not have lasted until the weekend. In his interview with Michael Parkinson, a promising youngster who should be let loose on serious politics, the Prime Minister had a curious air of detachment, as if he was no longer taking much notice of British domestic politics. The era of frantic focus grouping appears to be over. These days, there seems to be only a two-person focus group: Tony Blair and God.

Anyone who believes that Mills and Jowell is not damaging the Government must be living in a world of Mills & Boon. Huge loans, large douceurs, off-shore bank accounts, a couple rich enough to forget to tell one another about six-figure transactions; a lot of voters will conclude that the Blairites live in a different world; that they have simultaneously become corrupt and lost touch with ordinary peoples' reality. The Mills/Jowell mortgage is also bound to revive memories of Cherie Blair's £500,000 flat purchase, though in that case it was the wife who decided that the transaction was too trivial to mention to the husband.

Nor would it be unfair if Mr Blair were implicated. I have heard similar reports from a number of people who have dined in Number 10 over the past few years. Late at night, when the official guests have gone, the Blairites have a topic to which they always return, like a man prodding a sore tooth . They are obsessed by their own poverty; envious of some of their friends' riches. That is why they are so drawn to the company of international white trash; so keen to be invited to the island of Freebeesia or the Palazzo Trouserthedoshio. They hope that some of the dosh will rub off on them.

If Tony Blair cannot see the problem, the same is emphatically not true of his next- door neighbour. Over the weekend, a succession of subterranean Presbyterian harrumphings have come from Gordon Brown on the subject of off-shore bank accounts and other Blairite baubles.

The Chancellor does not approve. In the short term, he knows that during the next Finance Bill, his ministers can expect sustained Tory teasing as he tries to close down the very loopholes that Mr Mills was exploiting. But Mr Brown has longer-term concerns. He does not want to see the Government's reputation destroyed before he has a chance to take over. Gordon Brown has great faith in his own powers of gloomy Calvinist rectitude: chase away the dancing girls, bring on the undertaker. But he is afraid that if matters go on as they are, he will arrive in Number 10 shortly before the undertaker.