As for Powell, his strong ties to Sidney Blumenthal, the White House adviser, have replaced the usual diplomatic links between our Washington embassy and the White House. It was the Blumenthal-Powell axis that set the agenda for Blair's February visit, including its grand State Dinner. Indeed two Embassy staffers were cut from the guest list to make way for New Labour supporters, such as Sony's Howard Stringer and Harold Evans. Unfortunately, neither Powell nor Blumenthal has any significant contacts within the group around Vice-President Albert Gore.
LONDON TRANSPORT'S first reaction to the Anti-Rucksack Campaign's request for a face-to-face meeting was a flat "No". Instead, we were referred to the London Regional Passenger Committee, a government-appointed body that monitors complaints. However, a call to Rufus Barnes, LRPC's director, found him "quite sympathetic" to our cause. He promised to ring London Transport on our behalf. Lo and behold, yesterday morning an LT spokesperson rang Pandora with a request to see copies of the many letters from rucksack victims and campaign supporters that have arrived on Pandora's desk. While it is far too early to call this "progress", perhaps the ice of LT's apathy regarding luggage abuse on the Underground has been broken at last. Time will tell.
MEANWHILE, THE Campaign was most alarmed to read a survey about what back-packers really carry around in those sacks. The survey, undertaken by Visa and STA Travel, discovered many highly unsavoury, even dangerous items, including: a camel dung ashtray, marijuana, chilli-fried worms, a hand grenade, moose droppings, a llama foetus, ordinary grass and "a pebble which an Indian yogi has regurgitated from his gullet". If luggage louts are going to carry such toxic debris around in public, let alone slam it into our faces, isn't there a case to be made for mandatory rucksack searches at Underground entrances?
SAGA MAGAZINE, Britain's most popular "grey market" publication, which is aimed at people over 50, suggests to our Westminster parliamentarians that they read and contribute to its lively letters page. Turning to the aforementioned, the first missive to catch the eye was delightfully droll:
"I find it impossible to take seriously any pundit or politician who, in desperate vanity, starts their partings about an inch above their ears and plasters their long thinning strands over the tops of their heads." Now, if our politicians will just take heed, what a lively debate this will be!
NEED A good excuse when you want to cancel a business lunch? A recent mailing from the European Teleconferencing Federation, whose "mission" is to reduce the volume of environmentally harmful business travel every year, suggests an excuse so outlandish that is hard to resist. Citing statistics that claim British managers spend 11 hours a week getting to meetings, the document continues: "The ice caps are melting because of this folly!" Can you imagine? "Nigel, I was keen to meet you for lunch today. However, I fear that the repercussions of my journey from the Exchange to the Savoy will cause another half centimetre of Antarctica to go missing."
THE ACTOR Ray Liotta (below) has risked the ire of the Sinatra family and much of Old Hollywood by agreeing to portray the great crooner in the forthcoming film The Rat Pack. The daughter of Ol' Blue Eyes, Tina Sinatra, sent Liotta a plastic horse's head to protest his depiction of her father.
Liotta, however, took the insult in his stride. "I just autographed it and returned it."