Pandora: Come back, Tony, all is forgiven

News of a rapprochement to warm the hearts of despondent Labour activists everywhere. Dr Peter Slowe, the newly elected chair of the Labour Finance and Industry Group, claims he is to persuade Tony Blair to return to the political fray by becoming involved in the Group's public profile.

"What we need is his communication abilities," insists Slowe. "It's no secret that Brown is not the best communicator. He's lost support from industry as a result. Mandelson's a great communicator when you hear him on the radio, but how can he defend giving money to the car industry? We need Blair's flair." Intriguingly, Slowe – who first became close to Blair during his previous term as the Group's chair in the run-up to the 1997 election – is adamant that, once involved, the former PM can be convinced to take on a higher profile in time for the next general election.

"Of course he'd never come back as leader under any circumstances but I think it's very likely that he will be making some public intervention, and I'm sure Brown will be very happy. Their relationship is good now. It's been very much exaggerated by the media."

Maybe so, though Pandora remains most curious to see how the Prime Minister responds to Slowe's assessment of his own abilities. "I'm hardly the first to say it!" pleads Slowe.

Sir Richard hits the Aussies for six

In a not uncharacteristic fit of self-publicity, shaggy-haired egoist Sir Richard Branson has been beaming his image on to Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of England's Ashes side. "Good Luck Ricky. You'll need it," reads the message. While such references mean little to Pandora, they appear to mean rather a lot to Australia's cricket fans. "Get your rich pom off our bridge," replied one journalist, not untypical of the general consensus. Time for Virgin to cancel its Antipodean routes? Perhaps.

The mystery of Boris's missing brief

How to explain Boris Johnson's apparent ignorance on Radio 4's Today show yesterday? The Mayor of London was on air discussing the regulation of hedge funds when he was asked for his thoughts on the Coulson affair. Bozza, however, claimed not to know what they were on about, despite the story having broken a good 15 hours earlier. Had he not watched the news? Had he not been briefed? Or was he simply trying to avoid awkward questions? "It was rather odd," says a BBC source. "The Mayor's a busy man," says City Hall. Clearly.

Gallery chief sketches through the heckles

Top marks for gallantry to Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery. The heroic chap, pictured, offered to fill in after somebody failed to turn up for their slot on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth.

"They only gave me an hour's notice," he tells us. "I missed a couple of openings: one at the National and one for Johnny Yeo, but I had enough time to grab a sketchbook and some pens. I just sat there sketching, and then Antony Gormley called me up and said he could see what I was doing."

Gormley wasn't the only one watching, it seems. Even the director of the NPG gets his fair share of hecklers. "There were a couple of guys down there shouting at me. Just along the lines of 'Why don't you do something?' or 'Entertain us'. It was quite odd. I didn't react." Probably for the best.

Speaker sounds good to Springer

A final word, now, on Jerry Springer. Following yesterday's story that someone closely resembling the noble man was seen wandering around the Commons, we have confirmed that the said person was, indeed, Springer. As to whether or not he had his eye on the Speaker's chair... well, we live in hope. The Tories want an independent candidate and he seems (fairly) well disposed to the idea. "I'm totally flattered," he says. "But I'd think they'd want someone who isn't American. Wasn't that what the revolution was about?"

pandora@independent.co.uk

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