Pandora's Box

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Asian idol

A FRIEND of Pandora's recently returned from an exotic holiday in Cambodia with a tale that should warm Peter Mandelson's heart.

During her tour around the beautiful but backward land, she met many friendly Cambodians but was struck by how little they knew of the rest of the world.

Most had never heard of such Western icons as the Beatles, Elvis or even the Spice Girls. However, while she was walking in the the temple gardens at Angkor Wat, she was approached by a pleasant young man who asked where she called home. When she told him that she was from Britain, his face broke into an enormous grin and he said, "Ah, yes, Tony Blair!"

Derry's in demand

POOR Lord Irvine. It seems he is facing a huge tax bill as a result of his selfless flat refurbishment on behalf of future generations.

Since the details of his plans for the Lord Chancellor's apartments became public, a number of clergymen have written cross letters to the newspapers. They have pointed out that the Inland Revenue charged them for benefits in kind when their vicarages were done up. On their behalf, Tory MP Eric Forth put down a question. It was answered by Dawn Primarolo, a Treasury minister, to the effect that government ministers occupying official residences met the statutory conditions for exemption from tax on living accommodation or structural alterations. That seemed clear until she added: "Where improvements to the accommodation consist of repairs, decoration or furniture, tax is charged on a benefit by Section 163 (2) of ICTA to 10 per cent of the taxable ministerial salary and any other benefits."

Wallpaper, mirrors, curtains: sounds like decoration and furniture to me. When Pandora called the Treasury to confirm that this made Lord Irvine liable to a whopping tax, he was told by an Inland Revenue spokesman, "All Dawn Primarolo did was set down the rules. At the Inland Revenue we do not comment on the tax position of any individuals, including Lord Irvine."

Derry, better ring your accountant.

Northern exposure

A FRIEND of Pandora's is well acquainted with Lady Aitken, Jonathan's charming mother. When he was arrested on Tuesday, the police were very discreet about which London station was used for his interview in order to keep the pack of journalists from mobbing him on his exit. (As it was, they mobbed him on his home doorstep.) My friend happened to speak to Lady Aitken during the day and casually asked where her son was being grilled. "It's in Fulham," said the good lady. "Although if they really wanted to keep anyone from finding him they ought to have taken him to a station north of the Park." Highgate? Isn't that a wasteland somewhere near Leeds?

Cyber slander

PANDORA wandered over to the Central Office of Information offices in Lambeth earlier this week to watch the BSE hearings and was impressed by the technology.

All official participants were equipped with lap-tops on which they could watch a rolling transcription of the hearings as typed by a recording secretary. However, when the language speeded up, it was obvious that the recorder had to struggle to keep pace. Thus the word "cannibalistic" came on the screen as "cannibal list tick". This gave Pandora a mildly amusing free association - "cannibal lipstick" - until another variant flashed on screen. Professor Richard Lacey had been speaking of how in the past the Ministry of Agriculture had been "pushing a line". The screen transcript rendered this as "pushing a lie".

Shortly thereafter, the chairman of the panel himself began to refer to how the government had been "pushing a lie". Can you sue a computer for libel?