Byline: ANNE MCELVOY
IT WAS a fine affair but now it's over - at least for a while. As Germany's Chancellor Schrader emphatically refuses to support an attack on Iraq, Downing Street has barely a good word these days for the man the Chancellor used to call "mein Freund Tony".
"He's lacking in substance," sniffs one close adviser. "He's got no real backbone," adds a minister. "He's been a bit of a disappointment really," adds another senior Blairite.
Iraq, arguments about European reform and the euro cooled what was, a couple of years ago, the hottest political friendship in Europe. The Chancellor made no secret of his admiration for Mr Blair's modernisation of New Labour and commitment to public service reforms, and modelled his press operation on the Alastair Campbell-inspired Downing Street press team.
Links between Downing Street and the Kanzleramt were close and hopes flourished that an Anglo-German alliance could be made, avoiding what has effectively been a French power of veto over changes in EU budgets and the Common Agricultural Policy that did not suit France's interests.
Mr Blair even spoke at one of the Chancellor's election rallies when the outcome looked dodgy. Not much help has come by return of post to London.
When Chancellor Schrader inveighed during his fraught national election campaign at the end of last year against Americanled "adventures", Mr Blair could afford to take a relaxed view. The collateral damage was to a German-American relationship that is currently in a dire state in the wake of the Chancellor's outburst.
Yesterday, however, Herr Schrader made another verbal rally against the war.
The Chancellor's habit of shoring up the Leftwing-Green vote in this way (he was speaking in a regional election campaign) is seen as thoughtless towards his former ally in London.
No one realistically expected the Germans to fully back or take part in an Iraq offensive. But the Chancellor chose strong and populist phrasing in denunciations this week for any intervention.
Now, as Mr Blair tries to steer the tricky course of the run-up to war while keeping the UN involved, Herr Schrader's decision to flout his opposition - in common with the increasingly hostile French - is seen as excessive.
"He really does not have to go this far or couch his opposition in terms that sound like an attack on the US and Britain," said one visibly angry diplomat. Both German and British diplomats note that the atmosphere at the moment is strained. …