- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

LONDON The Trooping of the Color, one of Britain's most splendid parades, marked Queen Elizabeth II's 76th birthday yesterday, but one of the spectators, Prime Minister Tony Blair, faced ever more fierce accusations of being obsessed with his public image.
As two white horses led the queen's open carriage from Buckingham Palace, Mr. Blair's advisers wondered how a Friday move to pre-empt any further speculation that he had sought to use the queen mother's funeral in April to boost his image brought instead a barrage of more negative publicity.
Reports that Mr. Blair wanted to walk to the queen mother's lying-in-state and greet her coffin but had been prevented from doing so by a parliamentary official, have abounded in the British press. In a rare personal statement, the prime minister said that his aides had done "nothing more than seek to establish what was expected of me" when they called the official, Gen. Michael Willcocks, about the ceremony.
"I had hoped to avoid an unseemly public row about this but when false and serious allegations continue to be made like this, I feel I have to try to set the record straight," Mr. Blair said before his office published on Friday a chronology of contacts with the office in charge of the funeral arrangements.
The 29-page dossier detailed all conversations between the prime minister's staff and the office's head. It also included evidence that 10 Downing Street submitted to the Press Complaints Commission. Mr. Blair's office had turned to the commission after the media accounts came out, though it later withdrew the complaint.
But the prime minister's attempt to ensure that his reputation is not hurt prompted more criticism yesterday. Most newspapers accused him of paying too much attention to "spin." The latest series of attacks came amid calls from senior lawmakers for his chief "spin doctor," Director of Communications Alastair Campbell, to resign.
"Blair digs himself deeper into trouble," read a headline in the Daily Telegraph. In an editorial, the paper said the release of the documents proved the prime minister was "inordinately preoccupied with his own image." It called his denial that he tried to muscle in on the arrangements "one of the most embarrassingly disingenuous statements he has ever made."
The Independent said the affair was a humiliation for Mr. Blair. "The more serious problem for Mr. Blair is that his own skill in riding the ravening media beast has turned against him because people assume he is spinning when he is not," it wrote.
The Times blamed Mr. Blair's "bad habits" on former President Bill Clinton, whose "game plan was to attempt to prevent even the smallest criticism taking root." That causes "members of the government to make stupid mistakes," it said.
The parade yesterday was part of the official celebration of the queen's birthday, which actually falls on April 21. She marked the occasion then with a low-key private celebration and royal gun salutes in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and York.
She was followed yesterday on horseback by her husband, Prince Philip; her son Prince Charles; and her daughter Anne; all in ceremonial dress.


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