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England's Glory: Political scrap over party for cup winners A parade fit for heroes.

Byline: Jonathan Walker

The Downing Street reception for England's world cup heroes was at the centre of a bitter and increasingly bizarre political row yesterday.

The Prime Minister was accused of hijacking the event as 'Labour Party stunt' last week, when it was revealed only Tony Blair and his Ministers would be allowed to attend.

Conservative spokeswoman for sport Julie Kirkbride (Con Bromsgrove) objected that Michael Howard, the Tory leader, had been excluded -and Downing Street responded by inviting her, but not him.

Yesterday, however, Number 10 issued Mr Howard with an invitation of his own, as he was visiting Birmingham.

It led to him rushing back to London once his engagements in the Midlands were over.

But then another row broke out -when Ms Kirkbride revealed she had been told to use the tradesman's entrance to Downing Street. Tony Blair's staff had told her not to come in the front way.

She said: 'As usual, Mr Blair wants to hog the limelight.'

Downing Street made another U-turn hours before the event began and agreed that guests could use any entrance they liked. Officials had merely wanted to save Ms Kirkbride the inconvenience of pushing through a crowd of children, they said.

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said the players were being met outside Number 10 by 400 schoolchildren from 30 specialist sports colleges from across London.

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman stressed: 'Our sole aim today is to recognise the fantastic achievement of the players and their backroom staff and that they should have a good day today.

'The important thing is we keep the focus today on the players, the team and their partners.

'In the past it has not been common practice to have members of the opposition at Government receptions, but because we want there to be no controversy to surround this, we have decided on this occasion that if the opposition want to come that's perfectly okay.'

Government ministers attending included Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Sports Minister Richard Caborn, who was told to fly home from Australia and miss the historic world cup final to take part in a Commons vote on foundation hospitals.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy also attended the reception, after No 10 phoned his office yesterday morning.

Mr Kennedy said: 'I'm delighted to attend the celebration of a wonderful victory by the English team. The parade is a national event and it's important that the nation joins in as a whole.'

Mr Howard signed autographs and rugby balls and posed for photographs during a ten-minute stroll along Downing Street before entering the Prime Minister's home.

Following the reception he said it was: 'A wonderfully proud day for the whole country.'

He added: 'The team have brought the country together in a magnificent way. I feel very privileged to have met them and chatted to them on this special day. The players were very buoyed by the fantastic reception they had earlier.

'People have been looking for an opportunity to display a sense of national pride and this was a great day.


Tony Blair meets (from left) Will Greenwood and his wife Caroline (seated), Jonny Wilkinson and girlfriend Diana Stewart and Laurence Dallaglio and partner Alice Corbett (obscured); Tony Blair chats to Jason Robinson and his wife Pascale Mike Catt talks to Tony Blair at the reception; The England team's open-top buses make their way through the thousands thronging the route in London; All you need is love: T-shirts hanging outside a shop in Regent Street; Above: Jonny Wilkinson shows the Webb Ellis Trophy to the crowd in Trafalgar Square. With him is England coach Clive Woodward. Left: A young England rugby fan watches his heroes as they ride on a procession of open-top buses. Below: A fan dressed for the occasion to pay homage to his heroes. Below: .Jason Robinson salutes the crowd
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 9, 2003
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