Blair's new baby comes alongside parental politics debate

LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair plans to combine fatherhood and politics as he shares responsibility for raising his son Leo, born early Saturday.

The boy is the first child born to a serving British prime minister in 152 years. Cherie Blair, 45, and the 6 pound, 12 ounce baby - named after Blair's father - were in good health.

''He's gorgeous, he's a lovely little kid,'' said Blair, 46. ''He's been pretty good so far.''

Blair's baby is the couple's fourth child. Congratulations poured in from Queen Elizabeth II, political leaders and a friend across the Atlantic - Hillary Clinton, who telephoned Mrs. Blair in the afternoon.

''This is a wonderful day for them and a happy day for the country as a whole,'' Conservative Party leader William Hague said.

Blair, whose government legislated to give fathers a right to parental leave, resisted public pressure - notably from his lawyer wife, who has taken such cases to court - to claim that right for himself. Blair indicated Saturday that he plans to cut down his workload for a while, but won't take a leave.

While Blair was at the hospital Friday night supporting his wife through the birth, Labor Party lawmaker Tess Kingham - a new mother - said she was fed up with the demands of politics and would not run for re-election. But Kingham said her decision was not based on the twins she had in January.

Kingham was swept into office in the Labor landslide of 1997 - one of a record 120 women elected to Parliament, 102 of them from the Labor Party. But any expectations that the influx of women legislators would lead to changes in the style and working practices of the House of Commons proved largely unfounded.

''I do not want to work in a gentleman's club,'' Kingham told party members in Gloucester, in western England. ''The practices and culture of Parliament are suited to a 19th century institution, when well-heeled men did a day job and then popped along to the Commons to do a bit of politics in the evening and enjoy the many restaurants and bars with their chums.

''I am not willing to sit up all night for schoolboy politics,'' she said. ''At the whim of three or four of the opposition, we can be kept there until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. as they talk out a debate, usually saying nothing of consequence and sometimes with no vote at the end of it.''

Labor lawmaker Peter Bradley, also elected in 1997, said it isn't just women who are calling for reform of the House of Commons.

''It's a ridiculous parody of a parliament, weighed down by traditions which few respect, stifled by rituals which even fewer understand and strangled by working practices which mean that exhausted MPs pass laws at 3 in the morning when they are past caring what they are voting for,'' Bradley said.

Not everyone shares those opinions, though. Conservative lawmaker Gerald Howarth replied Saturday that if Margaret Thatcher ''could combine motherhood and having young children with the most distinguished career in the House of Commons then clearly it's possible to do both.''

''But it's not for the fainthearted and it would be quite inappropriate for us to change our habits for a very small number of people,'' Howarth said.


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