Blunkett still hangs on at 'disgrace and favour' pad

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The Independent Online

* The huffing and puffing over David Blunkett's grace-and-favour home has now been going on for almost as long as the seedy scandal that drove him from office.

In early November, a fortnight after Blunkett's resignation from the Cabinet, this newspaper reported that Tony Blair had allowed him to stay at the Belgravia bachelor pad that went with his previous job.

A furious Blunkett immediately denied our report. In a letter, he claimed that - though he was still resident at the taxpayer-funded property - it was "misleading" to suggest that he'd remain there for any length of time.

"I have made substantial efforts over the last two weeks to find new accommodation as soon as possible," he wrote. "I've had to put up with distortion about my private life for the past six months. I did not expect a respected newspaper to continue in this vein."

Imagine Pandora's surprise, then, to discover that - two months down the line - the honourable member for Sheffield Brightside remains firmly ensconced at the £3m home in South Eaton Place. Although he's trying to buy a new property, a spokesman can't put a deadline on any move, saying: "Things are in the hands of the surveyor and lawyer."

Opponents reckon this poor form, since other former Ministers have moved into rented accommodation just days after being forced out.

Blunkett, for his part, promised in November to be absolutely gone "within three months of his resignation." That leaves just 13 days before his integrity can be questioned once more.

* Arabella Weir is taking on the Notting Hill set. The comely satirist is creating a TV series lampooning customers of mail order magazines.

In what looks very much like a shot across the bows of David Cameron, the show will centre on inhabitants of London W11 who adopt a sartorial style described as sports casual.

Just such a man is the new Tory leader, who admitted in a recent interview to buying most of his clothes from the Boden catalogue.

"I'm in the middle of writing a sitcom about couples who are into lifestyle catalogues," she says. "I can't say that it's Johnny Boden's one, but it will be aimed at people who fill their homes with things like scented doorstoppers that cost £47.50."

Weir is fascinated by upper-crust Tories. Her last BBC series Posh Nosh - which co-starred Richard E Grant - took on Nigella Lawson.

On that theme, she adds: "I'm also writing a book called Why Women Don't Eat Chocolate in Front of Men. Being male, you wouldn't understand it."

* Could there be, in all England, a better example of a 21st-century renaissance woman than dear old Joanna Lumley?

In addition to her acting career, Lumley has a burgeoning literary reputation, having published no less than two autobiographies and one memoir.

Now she's trying her hand at fiction, and is currently hunkered over a typewriter knocking out a debut novel.

"I have written six books before, but this will be my first attempt at fiction," she told me at the opening of an Egyptian Landscapes exhibition at the Brunei Gallery.

"It doesn't have a title yet but will be set in London. I can't say any more than that, other than it'll be published next spring."

Lumley's plotline is resolutely romantic, with "lots of kissing," but I'm at present unable to establish if readers will also be treated to a sex scene. We live in hope!

* Charles Kennedy's demise has bought (much-needed) slickness to the Lib Dem spin machine.

Anna Werrin, their very own Alastair Campbell, has e-mailed leadership candidates about the coming spring conference in Harrogate.

A leaked copy of her missive reveals, bizarrely, that their speeches will all be written by the same person.

"I will be asking Mike Finn to draft potential speeches," it reads. "He'll base these round... your leadership manifestos (when published) and the closest thing we have to a theme at the moment: 'Fairer, Greener, More Democratic'."

Werrin adds, sternly: "Make sure you arrive in a decent looking car for the arrival photo-op." Control freak!

* Like many a Welsh icon, pop singer Cerys Matthews emigrated to the USA the minute she found fame and fortune.

The Catatonia star is still doing her bit for the Land of Her Fathers, though. She's just become the "face" of a Welsh Assembly campaign to teach fellow countrymen to add up properly.

Her cover version of the Len Barry song "1-2-3" will be used on a TV advertisement encouraging the Welsh to sign up for adult numeracy lessons.

Some find the choice of song patronising (they reckon it suggests listeners have trouble counting to three), but a spokesman for the Skills Agency is keen to paint it in a positive light.

"This isn't about saying people in Wales are bad at maths," I'm told. "It's actually a very uplifting campaign."