OPINION: Hunter's access to Blair will benefit BP

A woman who most of the public had never heard of left the

Government last week and got more column inches of coverage in the

papers than the resignation of Henry McLeish, Scotland's First Minister.

She wasn't an MP or even a peer but Anji Hunter, Tony Blair's

'gatekeeper, confidante, bag carrier, fixer and soulmate.' This

resignation excited the Westminster scribes more than McLeish because,

as the Prime Minister's spin doctor Alastair Campbell keeps telling us,

they are much more interested in trivia and gossip than real politics.

They aren't the only ones.



We all want to know why after the 1997 election landslide Cherie Blair

told her husband that she didn't want Hunter working in Downing

Street.



I bumped into Anji the night of the celebrations having been told myself

that Blair had informed Gordon Brown that he wanted to sack me. I never

thought for a minute that Anji would face the same problem. She was

distraught but even though she was in tears she refused to accept her

fate and fought hard to keep her job. It says a lot for her tenacity and

Blair's reliance on her that he ignored the pleas of his wife and

installed Hunter into a top Downing Street job.



Anji has now decided to call it a day and leave at a time of her

choosing, but Blair's loss is BP's gain. This company has decided to

shell out £250,000 a year to put her on the payroll. We are told

that she is to be involved in some sort of PR - but she knows as much

about PR as Julie Burchill knows about David Beckham.



The reason why BP has snapped her up is because she is the one of the

few people in the country who can pick up a phone any time of day and

night and chat to the Prime Minister. The others aren't for sale - yet.

Anji Hunter has many skills but make no mistake about it BP has only

appointed her because of who she knows. Hunter is the highest profile

New Labour aide to go over to the private sector so far and to BP she is

probably worth every penny of her six-figure salary.



But I can't believe how much some companies will pay to get an 'in' with

New Labour. One chap who used to do the photocopying in Gordon Brown's

office is now raking it in on the basis that he once 'worked for the

Chancellor.' Derek Draper has made a very good living out of the fact

that he used to carry Peter Mandelson's bags - despite (both) being

involved in 'sleaze' scandals.



No doubt it was to head off any whiff of any such scandal it was

announced that before starting with BP Anji Hunter has been forced to

have three months 'holiday.' As if in that time she would have forgotten

any government secrets or Tony would have changed his phone number. This

pathetic decision was taken by civil service head Richard Wilson (known

as 'Jug Ears' to the Downing Street staff - and that's not

affectionately). No wonder she is worth twice as much as he will be when

he retires.



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