NICK RAYNSFORD, Minister for London and Construction, has brought new meaning to the phrase "ministerial meeting". On Tuesday Ann Winterton, Conservative MP for Congleton, asked when Raynsford had last met construction industry representatives to discuss housing developments. After the usual ministerial blurb about how regular the contact is between the department and the industry, Mrs Winterton pressed the minister for the exact occasion of his last meeting. "The last occasion was yesterday evening," answered Raynsford firmly, before launching into an attack on the last government's housing record. And what was the occasion of this top-level ministerial meeting? A reception for the London Young Labour Councillors Network, sponsored by the Housebuilders Federation.

GOVERNMENT MINISTERS will be pleased that the opportunities to attend meetings, or rather receptions, are plentiful. The Greater London Labour Party (GLLP) will be holding a business dinner next month which MPs are implored to attend. The Labour members will receive complimentary tickets to the event and will surely be enticed by the GLLP's announcement that: "We are about to negotiate a `night off' for London MPs with the London whips." The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Byers, will be the guest speaker. At least there will be no need for MPs to ask Byers when he last met representatives of small business or training and enterprise councils, since they will be present at this Labour Party event.

THE ENTRE PRENEUR Richard Branson was a victim of an inventive youth armed with cherry pie in New York on Monday. Branson was at a Virgin Megastore signing copies of his autobiography when the youth emerged from the crowd and hurled the pastry in the Virgin boss's face. "We hugged, and I sent him on his way" Branson told the New York Post. Since his autobiography is called Losing My Virginity, Richard had to admit that cherry pie was an appropriate weapon.

TONY BLAIR was wowing MPs with a display of wit at yesterday's Labour Parliamentary Party meeting and, as is so often the case, Peter Mandelson was at the centre of the joke. At the meeting Mandy was praised by the Glasgow Maryhill MP, Maria Fyfe, for his strong sentiments over the arrest of General Pinochet. Blair apologised for Mandy's absence, quipping that he was "at a Socialist Workers Party meeting". There is many a true word spoken in jest. Pandora hears that the Campaign Group, the last bastion of hard-core leftism in the Labour Party, may be about to invite Mandelson to address one of its meetings. Peter Mandelson in the company of Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone? Now that really is a laughing matter.

THE ART-ROCK hero Patti Smith has been playing down her cult status. Salon magazine asked Smith this week if she woke up in the morning conscious of her icon status. "When I wake up in the morning, I wake up because one of my kids knocks on the door. And it's time to make the cereal because they're going to school. So I stumble down the stairs to make the cereal and make sure that the clothes I put in the dryer the night before are out for them to wear. And then I take my daughter to school. I don't think there's any part of my consciousness that considers that I have any kind of historic place on earth except in their life," says Patti. Perhaps even wild horses couldn't drag her away from this domestic bliss.

ATTENTION ALL beer promoters: Paul Newman (pictured) will advertise your product. "I'd do any commercial for a good-tasting beer" said Newman, at a charity event for the National Actors Theatre in the Big Apple this week. At one point in the evening Newman, already the star of his own salad-dressing production, was asked to pose for

a picture standing at the bar. He obliged, but was careful first to conceal with a napkin the label of the beer he was drinking. Perhaps next

time, if

the price is right, the napkin will come off.

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