Tables are turned as Blunkett prepares to quiz Morgan

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The Independent Online

The former home secretary is therefore delighted to have been handed a gilt-edged opportunity to gain public revenge on one of the British media's most vicious attack dogs, Piers Morgan.

Next month, Cancer Research holds a "turn-the-tables" lunch at which politicians are given the chance to interview leading journalists in front of TV cameras, sketch-writers, and several hundred paying guests.

Organisers made speculative approaches to a handful of ministers, saying Morgan had submitted himself for interview.

"Blunkett's office rang back immediately, and asked how hostile he was expected to be," I'm told. "When we said he could ask Morgan anything he wanted, they replied that in that case he'd be delighted to take part."

The lunch will also see Malcolm Rifkind crossing swords with Channel 4's Jon Snow at the height of the Tory leadership election.

"I'm sure none of us would go through with this if it wasn't for such a very good cause," said a nervous Blunkett last night.

* Having survived the culinary slanging-match Hell's Kitchen, Gary Rhodes wouldn't normally be accused of cowardice.

Strange, then, that he's pulled out of next month's Cheltenham Festival of Literature after being scheduled to share a stage there with the food critic Giles Coren.

Coren, you see, has panned many of the hedgehog-headed chef's restaurants over the years, dubbing the food he serves "crappy".

At the festival, they were to discuss Rhodes' book Keeping it Simple. Coren now says: "I'm only guessing, but it's possible Gary's refusal to take part had something to do with my having given him a couple of bad reviews."

Not so, says Rhodes. "I know he's had issues with Giles Coren in the past," says a spokesman. "But he pulled out because he's launching his new restaurant, Rhodes W1. Most of his engagements are around the M25 and he didn't want to go too far afield."

As the crow flies, London to Cheltenham is a whopping 75 miles.

* Rhys Ifans - the noted scruffpot, actor, and Welsh Nationalist - is a surprise guest at this week's top society event, the Connaught Square squirrel hunt's annual ball.

Despite his membership of the so-called "Primrose Hill set", Ifans makes an appearance on a list of otherwise tweedy celebrities (Otis Ferry, Clarissa Dickson-Wright et al) at the glitzy bash, which takes place at The Banqueting House, to raise money for the pro-hunting lobby.

"We don't know if Rhys is a supporter or not," says an organiser. "One of the hunt's founders, Gareth Humphries, is a mate, and has persuaded him to take a seat at his table."

Since you're wondering, the Connaught Square Hunt uses terriers to pursue squirrels around the gardens next to Tony Blair's new house in order to make some sort of political point.

* Tony Blair is curiously quiet about the German elections, which take place a week on Sunday.

It wasn't always so. Last time our Germanic chums voted - in September 2002 - Blair lent considerable support to Gerhard Schröder, offering Der Tagesspiegel an interview to that effect just a week before polling day.

This year, he's making no such noises, and even offered an audience to Schröder's opponent Angela Merkel when she made a visit to the UK earlier this year.

"There are two reasons for this," says one analyst. "Firstly, Blair's not sure Schröder will actually win this time, and hates to back a loser.

"Secondly, they fell out very badly over the Gulf War, and personal relations are still a bit strained."

* Sometimes, it's difficult to know when Ricky Tomlinson stopped being Jim Royle, the opinionated super-Scouser he portrayed in The Royle Family.

At a press conference yesterday for his new ITV series Mike Bassett: Manager, a football drama, Tomlinson was asked what he thought of our national sport.

"The beautiful game has become the beautiful business, and the people who run it should be ashamed," he chuntered. "They've allowed the game to go beyond the reach of working-class people; fans are being ripped off and it's a bloody disgrace.

"I still like Liverpool, but I just don't go. It's a one-man campaign against exorbitant prices. I see players coming off the pitch with no sweat on their shirt, and that makes me angry. They have wallets the size of the Himalayas, but don't give a thimbleful of effort." Or as Royle might say: "My Arse!"

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