Matthew Norman on Monday: Muhammad Ali's Rumble in the Jungle inspires fightback by Tory heavyweight Pickles


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The Independent Online

The Tory fightback begins at last, and with such dazzling virtuosity that you begin to suspect that they've been playing Muhammad Ali in Zaire these latter months, feigning punchy fatigue to sucker in the enemy before delivering the knock-out blow.

The first clear sign that all the chaos has been a cunning game of rope-a-dope comes by way of the meisterplan of Arbuckle "Eric" Pickles, above, the Communities Secretary, to scrap council tax on "granny flat" annexes to private homes. This populist brainwave is so scintillatingly original that it hasn't been executed for fully 15 years, New Labour in effect introducing this measure in 1997 by exempting annexes occupied by relatives over 65, severely disabled or suffering dementia.

Whether Eric means to cancel that exemption so that he can then reintroduce it, thereby helping to meet the official target of 17 U-turns per week, needn't concern us today. This is the moment to celebrate the Government's commitment to radical change, and to this end I am delighted to report that David Cameron is reportedly considering these additional manoeuvres in the cause of modernisation: inviting Lord Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor, to lead exploratory talks with police and religious leaders about legalising homosexual intercourse between consenting adults: establishing a Royal Commission to weigh the implications of ending National Service; and holding a House of Commons free vote on abandoning capital punishment. There is a further rumour about a green paper on a switch to a decimal currency, but since No 10 insiders regard it is as unlikely within this parliament, no need to fret about saying farewell to the thru'penny bit just yet.


Louise guides us through the fog


It takes an unusually rigorous intellect to spy the plain truth through the enveloping fog of war, and no one would deny that Louise Mensch has one of those. Only Louise contrived to boil down Thursday's Leveson merriment into one succinct statement of inarguable fact, when she tweeted of Jeremy Hunt: "He has been completely exonerated today." With every week that goes by, the more scandalously negligent the Cabinet exclusion of Louise – believed to be heading for Cairo today to celebrate Mubarak's acquittal at a Tahrir Square rally – comes to appear.


Anne triumphs over the booze


Hallelujah, hallelujah, hall-ey-yoo-yahhh ... Anne Atkins has only gone and won her battle with the booze! Our best-beloved vicar's wife recently alarmed godfearing Daily Mail readers by confessing that, thanks to the occasional schooner of sherry wine and a couple of glasses of Jacob's Creek over dinner ("I was probably drinking more than the Government-recommended maximum", confides the George Best of Thought For The Day), she had become a raging alcoholic.

We all prayed for her, and the Lord saw fit to answer those prayers.

Apart from a sip of champagne on Palm Sunday, a glass of red wine and a sneaky slurp of Aquavit while making gravadlax, Anne informs us, she made it through Lent not only dry, but amazingly free of the DTs. There may never have been a more courageous fight against potentially fatal addiction (to think of the fuss sissies make about giving up crack), and if Anne isn't honoured at the next Pride of Britain awards, we will all want to know why.


Grounded mogul needs your help


Upsetting news, meanwhile, of the man for whose Express titles Anne will cease writing, now that she has finally sobered up enough to appreciate the hypocrisy.

As this paper reported last week, Richard Desmond, left, has jettisoned his dream of treating himself to a £36m private jet, which he planned to name The Pussy Galore in homage to role model Auric Goldfinger's personal pilot, due to a slump in Northern & Shell profits.

I will be speaking to Bob Geldof and Midge Ure about a charity gig, but in the meantime donations to the Richard Desmond Aeronautical Hardship Fund may be addressed to the pornster care of the World's Greatest Newspaper.

Kevin: the loveable 'Dumbslog Millionaire'

Kevin Pietersen's retirement from one-day international cricket to concentrate on domestic Twenty20 comes as small surprise to fans of this lovable narcissist. A few years ago, after watching him throw away his wicket with another idiotic shot in the lucrative Indian Premier League, a Mumbai cricket journalist called him Dumbslog Millionaire – and if there's ever been a cuter, apter sporting sobriquet than that, do let me know what it is.