Axe grinder 24.03.06

Revealed: Brown’s promise to Blair

GORDON Brown’s determination to bring Tony Blair’s days as Prime Minister to a swift end over the "loans for lordships" furore has caused war to break out not just in Downing Street, but in the newsroom at Farringdon Road too.

Relations between the chancellor and Blair plunged to a new low ahead of Brown’s Budget on Wednesday.

One senior ex-minister told Axegrinder the disclosures were the last straw for Brown, who believes the loans have dealt a hammer blow to his and the Government’s reputation for financial probity.

Extraordinarily, the veteran politician said: "Gordon has told Tony ‘I didn’t get you on education, but I will get you on sleaze’."

The former minister said the Brown camp had briefed a group of senior executives and political editors on the nationals that the row meant Blair must quit Number 10.

The PM has publicly vowed to serve a full term until the next general election — expected in 2008 or 2009.

But The Guardian demanded on Monday that Blair should go by the end of the year in an extraordinary leader which has divided staff at the paper.

The paper’s Blairite Westminster team, headed by political editor Patrick Wintour — who recently succeeded long-serving Michael White as the paper’s political supremo — was furiously opposed to the idea.

But the leader-writing team supported the plan. This was to the dismay of Wintour, who is famed in the lobby for his closeness to Tony’s best chum Peter Mandelson and for his supportive coverage of the PM.

"You should have seen the scenes in the office when it was discussed," said a source at Farringdon Road. "It was mayhem."

Significantly, the chancellor refused to come to the PM’s aid by helping to switch the focus away from the loans row.

Leaks of juicy parts of the Budget to take the heat off Number 10 and the row over peerages were clearly not forthcoming.

A senior Blairite said: "We’ve had no help at all from Gordon over the loans stuff. It has been made very clear he wants to be a million miles from it."

Friends of the PM also believe that Labour treasurer Jack Dromey, who made the explosive allegation that he knew nothing about the loans, was "put up to it" by the Brown camp — a suggestion fiercely denied by both Dromey and the chancellor’s team.

Meanwhile, a Labour party insider believes Brown’s actions will have severe consequences for the would-be prime minster in waiting.

"There are people who will never forgive Gordon for this treachery, as far as an orderly transition of power goes, for many, all bets are off," he said.

Curious tale of thief in the night

NEWS reaches me of a heinous crime at the Daily Mail which has left the paper’s showbiz writer Baz Bamigboye on a furious hunt for the thief.

Tradition dictates that when one of the showbiz team returns from a trip abroad, they bring with them armfuls of sweeties for those left behind in the newsroom.

Bamigboye dutifully flew back from the Oscars with a bumper box of Celebration chocolates for all to enjoy.

The goodies are normally put under lock and key at night.

But someone forgot to stash them safely and the chocs disappeared overnight.

A furious Bamigboye called in security to investigate what is clearly the worst crime on Fleet Street since a Christmas pudding was pinched from outside Indy editor Simon Kelner’s office.

The culprit must now be living in fear that Mail editor Paul Dacre orders his henchmen to scour CCTV footage at Associated HQ to solve the crime.

LA hotel ban for Newton seems bizarre

SHOWBUSINESS writer of the year Victoria Newton, I learn, has been banned for life from staying at Chateau Marmont after writing a revelatory piece about the depraved antics of the Los Angeles hotel’s famous guests.

Newton, editor of the Sun’s Bizarre column, told readers how A-list movie stars snorted coke and had rampant sex while staying there during Oscars week.

Newton, of course, was also a guest — but indulged in nothing stronger than Perrier.

Outraged Marmont staff say she has breached guest confidentiality. Snapshots of Newton’s pretty face have been extracted from CCTV footage and pinned up by reception to help staff spot her should she attempt a re-visit.

All very odd considering that the Marmont is best known as the place where actor John Belushi died in 1982 after overdosing on coke and heroin.

Newton is indeed planning to return to LA in May to cover the first night of Madonna’s tour. The Four Seasons, be warned.

Rubin has a big impact on Sky News

It appears that James Rubin is having a huge impact on viewing figures at Sky News — to the despair of his newsroom colleagues.

Bill Clinton’s former White House spokesman fronts a worthy "flagship"

show each weekday evening on international affairs.

But his performance has left journalists at the network’s Osterley HQ with their heads in their hands.

Several are muttering that foreign editor Tim Marshall and presenter Chris Roberts, who occasionally stand in for Rubin, do a far better job.

But their frustration hit a new high last week when Sky left major breaking stories on "cash for peerages" and a crunch education vote in the Commons to switch to Rubin’s tedious show.

"The viewing figures fell off a cliff,"

said a Sky insider. "We lost about half the audience thanks to Rubin."

Staff at the network insist news supremo Nick Pollard is not to blame.

They are directing their anger at managing director Dawn Airey — now dubbed "Dawn Airhead" by her unkind critics.

Buckers helps Blunkers to earn his crust

AS Axegrinder revealed earlier this month, David Blunkett is picking up a hefty £75,000 a year for his column in The Sun.

But it appears that the former Cabinet minister needs more than a little help in penning his weekly musings for Sun editor Rebekah Wade.

A whisper reaches me that Fleet Street veteran Chris Buckland has been chosen for the task of knocking Blunkett’s copy into shape.

But the involvement of the cigarchomping hack — whose day job is the special correspondent at the News of the World — should come as no surprise.

Buckland is great buddies with Press Association supremo Paul Potts — a regular holiday companion of Blunkett’s — and News International boss Les Hinton.

Poor Blunkers must hope that Buckland will prove more trustworthy than his biographer Stephen Pollard.

He helped crush Blunkett’s Cabinet career by revealing his brutally frank opinion of his colleagues.

Will that be fries with your scoop?

THE BRUTAL cutbacks on exes at the Daily Mail have left some senior hacks on the brink of revolt.

To slash at least 20 per cent off the claims of staffers the newsdesk has come up with a cunning ruse.

"They are just putting an entire line through some meals with contacts,"

moans one senior correspondent.

"It means we can be out of pocket to the tune of £100 or more. Where are we supposed to take contacts — McDonald’s?"

Greenberg gets into a spin with Collins

THE KNIVES are out for ex-Mail on Sunday sports writer Simon Greenberg over the way he manages the spinmachine of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

He has long infuriated tabloid hacks with the way he runs the press operation at Stamford Bridge for "the Special One".

But now, even the widely respected Roy Collins has waded in to criticise Greenberg in his Sunday Telegraph column.

He lambasts Greenberg for the "amount of spin and counter spin that continually muddle the messages from what passes for a Chelsea PR department".

Perhaps Mourinho will find the hapless Greenberg a berth if he does head off this summer for Inter Milan or wherever?

Sunday Times hacks go down to the wire

I’M TOLD that hacks at the Sunday Times are sinking to desperate levels in their futile attempts to impress editor John Witherow.

One way of pandering to the boss and his minions is to ensure that exclusives are followed up by broadcasters and rivals on the dailies.

The theory goes that the story must be "true" if it gets followed up — unlike the paper’s infamous scoops such as the Hitler Diaries in 1983, which later turned out to be a hoax.

At least one hack has now taken to hectoring wire agencies with the latenight demand: "Why isn’t my exclusive running on the wires?"

So far, diplomacy has prevented his hapless victims from passing onto the pushy staffer what they mutter under their breath: "Because it’s bollocks."

Stenson really does want to be laughed at

MORE on the planned and possibly suicidal debut of News of the World’s Jules Stenson as a stand-up comic.

The venue for the features executive’s first (and probably only night) as a wannabe Jack Dee or Ricky Gervais was being kept a closely guarded secret last week.

But, if my sniggering informants at Wapping are correct, it will be at the Comedy Store in Leicester Square on Monday night (27 March).

A host of disgruntled ex-NoW staff and execs from rival red-tops are gleefully planning to head along for a night of gentle heckling.

"It won’t be so much Jimmy Carr as Jimmy Carr Crash," says one underling at The Screws.

But then, they have probably never heard some of the news lists which Stenson has occasionally offered up.

Victory for Edmondson in tussle at NoW

A BITTER tussle for power at the News of the World appears to have ended in victory for ex-People news editor Ian Edmondson.

He found himself up against veteran Screws-man James Weatherup on the newsdesk after being appointed under editor Andy Coulson’s "divide and rule"


But Weatherup appears to have lost the battle and opted to go back on the road, according to my spies at Wapping.

The NoW is also reeling after another defection from the paper.

James Millbank is off to The People where he is being lined up for a senior job — possibly as chief reporter.

Millbank was apparently marched off the premises when he revealed to Edmondson that he was quitting for Canary Wharf.

He becomes the latest to leave after Sarah Arnold skipped off to join the Sunday Mirror.

So, are there any strike busters in the House?

STAFF AT The Independent were left in no doubt about the definition of a picket line ahead of proposed strike action at the paper.

Feisty mother of chapel Kate Simon fired off the above email to lowly paid reporters battling to squeeze a few quid more out of the Indy’s billionaire owners — before the action was called off at the eleventh hour. She made it particularly clear to any lobby hacks daring to cover the Budget from the picket-free zone of the House of Commons that they would be seen as strike-busters.

Axe Grinder at the Awards

Parsons breaks the peace

DESPITE THE outbreak of peace at the British Press Awards, there was one shocking moment. One shortlisted candidate was greeted with a loud, and very localised, pocket of booing. More shocking still, the object of this vocal abuse was Lynn Barber — doyenne of celebrity interviewing and a previous winner of British Press Awards interviewer of the year no fewer than five times.

Axegrinder was swiftly able to identify the boo-boy and discovered that Tony Parsons, Mirror columnist and best-selling author, was responsible for the barracking. Why? Because Barber gave him one of her legendary skewerings when she interviewed him for The Observer back in 2002 after Man and Boy had been published.

Four years has clearly not been enough to mellow the erstwhile hip young gunslinger’s pain at being on the receiving end.

Freaky charm offensive

THE MOST curious sort of behaviour came from a staffer at The Guardian.

An excitable and emotional columnist from editor Alan Rusbridger’s team set his sights on sex writer Catherine Townsend from The Indy. When his chat-up technique failed dismally, he informed the columnist she had "freaky eyes" before being sent packing. Charming.

Fran’s night loses its fizz

HARDWORKING Press Gazette events director Fran Barlow was looking forward to unwinding on Monday night as the British Press Awards drew to a close. After the sparkling evening had passed successfully, she was delighted to be told there was a complimentary magnum of champagne awaiting her, courtesy of the Dorchester Hotel team.

Alas, when she was finally able to tear herself away from some last-minute duties, the bottle was gone. The Guardian’s team, assuming it was some sort of added extra freebie to toast their success as newspaper of the year, had guzzled the lot.

Editors Met their match

BPA TROPHIES may open a lot of doors in winners’ careers, but there was one place they didn’t carry any weight. Outside the Met Bar at 2am was a queue of trophy-wielding winners, including Alan Rusbridger, whose pleas for entry had failed to move the doorman. And I’m told Press Gazette editor Ian Reeves’s "don’t you know who I am?" gambit didn’t work either. Surprise.

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