Blunkett's first major lecture to launch comeback campaign

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The Independent Online

* Less than three months after he resigned from the Cabinet, David Blunkett's political comeback is about to step up a gear.

* Less than three months after he resigned from the Cabinet, David Blunkett's political comeback is about to step up a gear.

On Monday, the former home secretary will make his first major political speech since the Kimberley Quinn affair, in a lecture to the Institute for Public Policy Research in London.

The move follows weeks of careful planning, and is part of a programme designed to gradually rehabilitate Blunkett, above, in time for the first post-election Cabinet reshuffle.

This week brought two low-key public appearances: an interview on The World at One, and a speech on "voter apathy" to a small audience in Birmingham.

Monday's event will be a more high-profile affair. When he was the home secretary, Blunkett often lectured at the IPPR, and his keynote speech - on "identity, citizenship, and belonging" - will give him ample chance to return to his old brief.

Blunkett still occupies an official residence in Belgravia. "He doesn't intend to vacate it," says a colleague. "As soon as the Kimberley affair drops off the news agenda, he'll be back - and this is the start of the comeback."

The IPPR added yesterday: "This will be his first speech that isn't low key since December. It had actually been scheduled for some time, but got postponed with the resignation. This is the first slot he's been able to find."

* HEATHER McCARTNEY can boast an unlikely cheerleader, as she attempts to launch a broadcasting career: Sir Nicholas Soames.

The Tory heavyweight has made a gentlemanly defence of the former model after hearing she feels upset at being frequently vilified in print by the journalist Amanda Platel.

"Nick was on Question Time with Heather a few weeks ago, and had a chat with her afterwards," I'm told. "He said that Platell's a bloody hypocrite, and has no right to criticise Heather because, in his words, she's a total dog."

Ouch! Encouraged by this endorsement, McCartney is returning to the airwaves with her brother, Shane, in a series on Classic FM comparing the lives of classical composers with modern pop stars.

"We approached the station and they loved it," she says. "We were all brought up on classical music in my house, especially Wagner."

* PRINCE CHARLES, left with Camilla Parker Bowles, hopes next month's royal wedding will provide an opportunity to patch things up with Hugh Van Cutsem, his oldest friend.

The pair fell out last year during a lengthy row over another wedding, between Charles' godson, Edward Van Cutsem, and the Duke of Westminster's daughter, Lady Tamara Grosvenor.

The Prince boycotted that event, after the Van Cutsem family prevented him from sitting alongside Camilla (of whom they disapprove) during the service at Chester Cathedral.

Now the hatchet is to be buried. For I gather that - contrary to tabloid reports - the Prince has invited Van Cutsem to his wedding. "The invite has been accepted," I'm told. "See it as a first step towards reconciliation."

* TENSE TIMES for one of Britain's foremost power couples. Tony Blair's one-time "gatekeeper", Anji Hunter, has been ordered to quit smoking by her boyfriend Adam Boulton, the political editor of Sky News .

She's finding it a struggle, though. At Piers Morgan's book launch on Wednesday - National No Smoking Day, as it happens - she sneaked off for an illegal ciggy with the Sun editor, Rebekah Wade.

"I'm hiding over here so Adam won't see," she told Pandora, hiding the gasper behind her back. "I'm supposed to have quit, and he'll kill me if he finds out. Don't tell him, or I'll be in big trouble." Oops!

* The decision to employ former England cricket stars Ian Botham and Alan Lamb as the new "faces" of British meat - reported by this column - may send a ripple through the world of showbusiness.

Botham is currently in London, recording a celebrity episode of Ready Steady Cook. In keeping with tradition, he intends to poke fun at the show's chirpy presenter, Ainsley Harriott.

It could make interesting viewing. Pandora recently encountered Harriott in the communal showers of a West London tennis club; he appears to have undergone an exotic body-waxing procedure known as the "back, sack and crack".

I have passed this intelligence to Mr Botham, who promises to raise it during the show. I do hope Harriott's response is televised.