Birt set to be Cabinet minister in charge of 'streamlining'

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After a week of unwanted intrusion into his private life, there is some good news on the professional front for the BBC's former director general, Lord Birt.

After a week of unwanted intrusion into his private life, there is some good news on the professional front for the BBC's former director general, Lord Birt.

Tony Blair intends to ask Birt - who is his unpaid "blue skies thinker" - to join his Cabinet, should Labour win the generalelection.

According to a blueprint doing the rounds in senior Labour circles, Birt, above, will become Blair's minister for the Cabinet Office and Civil Service Reform. The job will put him in charge of "streamlining" various Whitehall departments.

Birt has for some time been linked to a senior role at the Cabinet Office, and it was recently suggested that he would be appointed to the role of Cabinet Secretary, Britain's most senior civil servant.

That prospect caused alarm in Whitehall, where staff are concerned by Birt's track record at the BBC, where he made widespread management changes and introduced a notoriously clunky internal market.

"It has become increasingly clear that there would be enormous opposition to bringing Birt in as Cabinet Secretary," says one who has seen the blueprint.

"This is a way to give him a similar remit, without having to rely on anything except Blair's patronage."

The document also outlines new roles for Andrew Adonis, the PM's education adviser, and Liz Lloyd, his foreign policy adviser. Adonis will become a peer, in charge of education in the Lords; Lloyd will run the Downing Street policy unit.

* Lauren Bacall jollified last year's Venice Film Festival by saying, at a joint press conference with Nicole Kidman, that her co-star "isn't a legend, she's just a beginner".

Now there is further evidence to suggest that she's become Hollywood's grumpiest old woman.

At Monday's Foyles literary lunch in London, Pandora asked Bacall about the state of the film industry.

"Hollywood was terribly glamorous when I was there; it isn't glamorous any more," she said. "TV changed everything. Mediocrity has been brought to the fore. These days, the most talented playwrights write for television, and not for cinema.

"Creativity is at a low ebb in America. In my time, there were people like John Huston. Look around and what do you see now?"

It's not all bad news, though. Bacall admits to a fondness for Derek Jacobi, Ralph Fiennes and Hugh Grant.

"I'm crazy about Hugh. He's charming and marvellous looking. Not a great actor, but then he doesn't have to be."

* John Cleese - who reached the retirement age in October - has decided to dust down some old jokes and embark on a world tour.

He and his daughter, Camilla, are writing a "very, very violent" script for his show, which will open in New Zealand at the end of this year.

"Although we refer to it as a one-man show, it will also feature various Cleese underlings, flunkeys, retainers, daughters, sidekicks, minions, cat's-paws and cronies (and probably a few hangers-on too)," he says, in an e-mail to fans. "So it should really be called a several-person show."

Mr Cleese will tour Australia and the US, but there are currently no plans to perform on these shores. Not even for a Lib Dem fundraiser.

* David Blunkett might have been "brought down" by Fleet Street, but that hasn't stopped him taking its shilling.

The former Home Secretary has begun a regular column for the Daily Mirror, but admits to problems communicating with its working class readership.

"It's basically my attempt to motivate the electorate - to get people out to vote," he told me at Monday's final of the George Orwell Prize.

"It's my first regular work as a journalist, though I've written pieces for other papers in the past. To be honest, it's pretty difficult. It's easy to write for The Independent or The Guardian; to write for the Mirror's readers is a lot more difficult."

Pandora couldn't disagree more!

* Renaissance man Mike Read - disc jockey, TV personality, and West End impresario - has a new cause: road safety. He's launched a personal crusade against left-hand drive lorries after his Porsche was in a "near-death" collision with one on the M3 in Surrey earlier this month.

"I was in the middle lane, when a massive Polish truck rammed me at about 80mph as he tried to pull into my lane," recalls Read. "The car spun. I managed to stop it from rolling, but the truck hit me a second time. The strength of my Porsche was a massive contribution to my not shuffling off the mortal coil."

Truly, a lucky escape for aesthetes across our nation.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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