Pandora

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The Independent Culture
THE ENTERPRISE Forum, an organisation designed to get the Conservatives back in touch with business, was launched at Westminster's Atrium restaurant on Wednesday night. Pandora had the privilege of watching history repeat itself. For this was the Tory party attempting to do what Labour had done in opposition: gaining the confidence of the business sector and not, as the Forum's literature put it, relying on "old loyalties" or assuming "any favours for its task". The organisation is fronted by Alistair Burt, former social security minister, and staffed by former Tory party workers, one of whom told Pandora: "We make no secret of our links with the Conservative Party but we are not affiliated to them. The money raised by the subscription fee goes to pay our wages." And those invited to subscribe to the Forum's string of talks given by the opposition front bench? Representatives from retail, pharmaceuticals, management consultancy and - of course - the lobbying industry.

"WE BASICALLY look at which businesses we think are taking the consumer for a ride, which are making excess profits. We ask: can we do it differently than they are doing it? Is there a real reason for us to enter into that business? Will it enhance the Virgin reputation or not? Will we have fun doing it? Will we learn a lot from doing it?" asks Richard Branson, explaining his involvement with Virgin trains to Salon magazine this week. "Taking the consumer for a ride" on Virgin trains? It's what passengers have been crying out for Richard.

PANDORA READS with interest a tabloid newspaper's report that Paul Dodd, a known football hooligan would be signing his book (England's Number One), at the Kings Cross branch of WH Smith today. Despite having thirty criminal convictions a spokesperson for WH Smith is quoted defending Dodd's right to perform the signing, saying: "We don't censor what our customers read." That's funny. Wasn't it WH Smith who withdrew the Diana issue of Private Eye in 1997, dropped a number of specialist magazines in 1996, and banned an issue of Company magazine for a porn feature in 1994? Pandora spoke to Catherine Lister, the WH Smith executive quoted, and found out that Dodd's launch has now been cancelled, but that the book will remain on sale. "We stock books that our customers want to buy," Lister added.

THERE WAS some amusement at the preview for BBC2's new series Inside the Lords on Thursday. One clip, from a programme to be shown next year, featured the deposed Tory Lords leader Viscount Cranborne. To camera, Cranborne laments, "I am always being accused of having rows with William Hague. As far as I know our relationship is extremely cordial." Oh, sweet irony!

"EUROCENTRIC" WAS the word used to describe one American school's plans to put on play adapted from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Members of the Washington school's administration, parents and students felt the play was so Euro-slanted that they forbade the performing arts department from putting it on. A rebel mother told the Washington Times: "I guess all we Tiny Tim fans have been wrong for all these years, and we are in need of political re-education and self-criticism for our oppressive bourgeois views." The school will replace the production of A Christmas Carol with The Secret Garden, written by the, er, English author Frances Hodgson Burnett.

AT THE end of the second week of Pandora's Tony Banks vigil the great man (pictured) still spurns our invitation to vindicate the epic tome, The Wit and Wisdom of Tony Banks. Today's excerpt is particularly tasty: "I am a vegetarian. However, I am nobody's turnip. I came to vegetarianism fairly late in my somewhat dissolute life; it has been a journey of discovery... I am, however, no food fascist. If people wish to eat meat and run the risk of dying a horrible, lingering hormone-induced death after sprouting extra breasts and large amounts of hair, that, of course, entirely up to them."

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