Tony Blair gives full support to embattled culture secretary

British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his full support to the country's embattled culture secretary Monday as she faced pressure to step down from the Cabinet. Tessa Jowell has been facing political problems because of the complex financial dealings of her husband, lawyer David Mills, who has been accused of accepting a bribe from Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Jowell and Mills formally separated on Saturday.

"I believe she does an excellent job and should be allowed to get on doing it," Blair said after meeting at his office with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. "Really, that's all I want to say." Blair's spokesman said Jowell had the prime minister's full support.

Lawmakers gave Jowell a sympathetic reception as she took questions on culture and media issues in the House of Commons. "I hope my departmental questions will continue to provide the political highlight ... it has done today," she said to those in the crowded chamber.

Lawmakers cheered warmly as she stood to take questions, which focused on policy issues. Some legislators used comments about media and cultural issues to signal their support for Jowell. One praised the movie "Good Night, and Good Luck," about American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow's showdown with McCarthyism, for showing journalists who were willing to "take on witch hunts and face them down."

The opposition Conservative Party's culture spokesman, Hugo Swire, appeared to take a jab at Jowell when he prefaced a question about the British Broadcasting Corp.'s future by saying it was important to keep focused on such issues despite the minister's personal problems.

Jowell met earlier Monday with standards commissioner Philip Mawer, Parliament's official ethics arbiter, a spokeswoman for her department said. The spokeswoman declined to provide details of the discussion. Mawer's office said after the meeting that he did not believe Jowell needed to change her entry in the register of lawmakers' interests because of revelations about her husband's finances.

Earlier Monday, a Cabinet ally, Food and Agriculture Minister Margaret Beckett, urged Jowell to "tough it out" and hold on to her job. But former Transport Minister Glenda Jackson said the situation was becoming "farcical" and urged Jowell to think about the good of the governing Labour party.

"This is doing neither the party nor the government any good and I really seriously think that despite the fact that she has been doing a very good job Tessa should seriously think about staying where she is," Jackson said in a BBC radio interview.

O'Donnell reported last week that Jowell would have been obliged to report the money, but accepted that she did not know about it. On the basis of O'Donnell's report, Blair ruled that Jowell had not violated the code of conduct for government ministers. Conservative leader David Cameron expressed his sympathy to Jowell because of the difficulty in her marriage. "There has been huge pressure on her and it has been a difficult time but there are other questions that need answering," Cameron said, reports the AP.


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