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HOW DISAPPOINTING to read yesterday of Stella McCartney's decision - owing to work pressures - to quit the Foreign Office's Panel 2000, a committee of luminaries charged with promoting "Cool Britannia". However, the British fashion industry ought to provide a fitting replacement with little difficulty.

The most obvious choice would seem to be Vivienne Westwood (below). Having created, with Malcolm MacLaren, the original punk "look" on the King's Road in the early Seventies, grande dame Westwood remains at the cutting edge of international fashion. Unfortunately, a phone call to her office suggests that she, like McCartney, may be too engrossed in her own work to help Robin Cook boost British exports.

Pandora asked whether Westwood would be willing to serve on the panel. "Only she can answer that question, but I can't ask her today," a spokeswoman said, "She's far too busy launching her fragrance." Perhaps if Robin rings her direct?


AS WILLIAM Hague's bout of flu keeps him incapacitated for day after day, the insidious gossip about more serious physical or mental problems rises to a boil. Fortunately for the Boy Wonder, his inner core of faithful supporters has rallied round.

Alan Duncan, who became junior spokesman for health in the re-shuffle, joined with Sebastian Coe to substitute for Hague on a tour of Yorkshire last week. He was overheard at a Westminster party on Wednesday evening saying, "I enjoyed playing Doctors and Nurses." Let's hope it has not gone to his head or new boss, Ann Widdecombe, may have to sit on him a bit.


WHEN `NEWSNIGHT' devoted a large part of Wednesday's programme to a discussion of The Sun's attack on "dangerous" Tony Blair, it offered David Hill, former Labour chief media spokesman, as the Government's defender against anti-Murdoch conspiracy theorist Andrew Neil and Andrew Kavanagh, Sun political editor. Though he was definitely "on message", Hill is now employed as a PR flack by Bell Pottinger Good Relations. He took the call to appear on the programme on his mobile while attending a Bell Pottinger drinks party in Cardiff Bay, then toddled off to the BBC's local studio. Just one more example of our broadcasters' ingenuity in finding substitutes for increasingly rare government spokespersons.

WHAT IMPACT will the recent report from think-tank Demos suggesting that children should have the right to approve their parents' divorce have on the Government's Ministerial Group on the Family? Considering that the group includes Tessa Jowell (divorced), Alan Howarth (divorced) and chairman Jack Straw (divorced, with divorced parents), it will be interesting to see whether the Demos proposal gains their support.


PETER TEMPLE-MORRIS, the Herefordshire Tory MP who defected to the Labour Party last weekend, joined some of his constituents in a private box at Lords on Wednesday to watch their county play Middlesex. After a discussion about the possibility of night cricket matches being played at Lords, one wealthy businessman proclaimed loudly, "There are two things that are never going to happen. One is night games of cricket at Lords; the other is a Labour MP in Herefordshire." Many of the 20 or so guests left the box soon afterwards. Perhaps to start organising a by-election?


SIR GEORGE Martin's call on record companies to ditch groups who take or advocate drugs was a brave but perhaps unrealistic entreaty. Just how unrealistic should be clear to the ex-producer of the Beatles when he co-hosts the Mer-seyside Development Agency's celebration of 50 years of Liverpool music at Westminster in July. One of the invited bands is Cast whose lead singer, John Power, has appeared on the cover of `Melody Maker' flourishing a spliff in his hand.