A matter of national security: Tony's Christmas card list

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Say what you like about Tony Blair, but he does not like to cause offence. After all the excitement of the general election, it is back to business as usual at the Cabinet Office, and Pandora has received a letter refusing (for the second time) to disclose the names of the 1,900 close friends on the PM's Christmas card list.

Say what you like about Tony Blair, but he does not like to cause offence. After all the excitement of the general election, it is back to business as usual at the Cabinet Office, and Pandora has received a letter refusing (for the second time) to disclose the names of the 1,900 close friends on the PM's Christmas card list.

The primary reason for not doing so, it seems, is to spare the blushes of those of us not fortunate enough to have been included.

"Releasing any of the names of those people who receive Christmas cards from the Prime Minister might offend some people who did not receive cards," explains the letter, sensitively. "This could damage important relationships and would therefore not be in the public interest."

Four months after this column first requested details of the list, this letter - signed by one Colin Balmer - goes on to put forward a series of other, equally perplexing, reasons not to provide any names.

Apparently, to do so would also breech data protection laws, might get in the way of international relations and, most strangely of all, would stand in contravention to health and safety legislation:

"The names of individuals associated with the personal protection of the Prime Minister would pose a security threat."

The missive concludes by saying that if Pandora is not satisfied by these manifold excuses, I should contact the Information Commissioner. I intend to do so forthwith.

¿ Tracey Emin is embroiled in a row with her local police force. The headstrong Brit Artist in her column in this newspaper last Friday, claimed that her local East End police station is providing bobbies to the film star Sharon Stone on a "private hire" basis.

"When I asked them what they were doing there, they told me it was private hire ... and they kind of looked at me like I couldn't afford it," she writes.

This allegation has angered the fuzz, who insist that they remain public servants - even when there's a Hollywood actress in town.

"You can't privately hire a police officer any more than you can hire another public servant," says a spokesman. "But after detailed proposals and due consideration, it's possible that off-duty officers might have been employed."

For the record, it costs a very reasonable £43 per hour to hire a single constable.

¿ On Friday, Pandora reported that Yoko Ono is booked to play a concert at the Royal Festival Hall with Paul Simon's guitarist son, Harper. Now I hear that Simon Sr has also been spending some time in London lately, on a - dare I say it - more musically heavyweight project.

"Paul decided that he wanted to work with Brian Eno on his new album, so he's been over here and they've been in the studio together," I am told. "They've known each other for years but haven't recorded together before: it'll be fascinating to see what they come up with."

Eno, an experimental composer and artist in his own right, has previously worked on albums by U2 and David Bowie.

"He's very much more than just a producer," says his spokesman.

¿ Round two in the engaging literary spat between Leo McKinstry and the Irish writer Colin Armstrong. Last week, I reported that McKinstry had telephoned Fleet Street literary editors in an effort to prevent a certain writer - thought to be Armstrong - from reviewing his new book on Lord Rosebery.

"He has developed an infantile vendetta against me," he told me.

Now Armstrong calls. "McKinstry and I were at school and university together, and subsequently fell out," he says. "But I have certainly not been pursuing any vendetta against him. I've merely written a couple of letter to magazines to point out inaccuracies in his work. That hardly amounts to an infantile vendetta."

In any case, Armstrong would not allow his personal feelings to cloud a book review.

"This says more about McKinstry's insecurities than it does about me," he adds. The ball's in your court, Leo.

It's been a long time since someone has been brave (or stupid) enough to praise cigarettes for aiding weight loss, but the outspoken chef Antony Worrall

Thompson - a patron of the pro-smoking lobby group Forest - is not one to hold his tongue.

Wozza, who has happily smoked 20 cigarettes a day for many years, also robustly denies that the weed has any adverse effect on his cooking.

"I've lost a stone and I don't want to put it back on again", he tells me. "Some chefs talk about smoking affecting the palate, and causing over-seasoning of food, but I've never had that problem, either."

Over to Ash, the anti-smoking association, who reckon that this is "very sad, a terrible thing to say. Smoking kills; weight loss seems pretty irrelevant in comparison."

Comments