Battle is rejoined as Hitchens challenges Galloway to debate

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The Independent Online

After the fireworks on Capitol Hill, get ready for round two in the high-octane dispute between the greatest controversialists of recent times, George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens.

After the fireworks on Capitol Hill, get ready for round two in the high-octane dispute between the greatest controversialists of recent times, George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens.

Earlier this month, Hitchens met the Respect MP before the world's media in Washington. "You are a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," claimed Galloway. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink."

Hitchens returned fire in these pages. "He's a working-class-wideboy-and-proud-of-it, too used to the expenses account, the cars and the hotels," he wrote. "A very cheap character and a short-arse ... puffed up like a turkey."

Now battle is being re-joined, on two new fronts. First Galloway will review Hitchens' latest book for a Sunday newspaper; then Hitch wants to take his opponent on in a public debate.

Speaking at a talk organised by Atlantic Books, Hitchens said he's "delighted" that Galloway will review his book for The Observer.

"I'd rather that he tested himself against me personally, though," he said. "Labour Friends of Iraq have asked us to do a debate. I've accepted, but they've not heard from George. He can nominate a time, place and motion - I'd just love to take the discussion further."

"Gorgeous" George won't yet commit to that. As to his book review, he tells me: "It will be fair, because I think Christopher Hitchens writes like an angel. But he sups with the Devil - and drinks with him, too."

¿ Thanks to Goldie Hawn, it wasn't all plain sailing at the "christening" of the Sea Princess cruise liner in Southampton last week.

Organisers of the event laid-on a private jet to enable the Hollywood beauty - who is in the UK plugging her autobiography - to fly down from London for the day.

Sadly, having visited a book store in Southampton (where she signed several copies), Hawn announced that she was unwell, and refused to set foot on board the ship.

"Needless to say, most of the guests were disappointed, and the ship's owners were apoplectic," says one guest. "They'd hired a private jet especially for her to attend, and are entitled to ask for their money back."

Says a spokesman for Princess Cruises: "It is true that we had a cancellation from Goldie Hawn, but that wasn't too much of a dampener.

"We did have other celebrities, including Joanna Lumley, who christened the boat."

¿ In a bold attempt to bring culture to the masses, Coca-Cola has persuaded a collection of modern-day luminaries to bring their artistic talents to bear on the design of soft-drink bottles.

Various fashionistas - including Manolo Blahnik, Gharani Strok and Damon Dash - have sketched an elaborate design for their own, limited-edition Coke bottles. But Pandora's eye has been caught by the work of one (hitherto unknown) aesthete: Wayne Rooney.

His design is pictured right. "You're right to say Wayne is a surprise entry on our list of designers, but we think he's got real talent," say Coke.

"Not only has he done this footballing sketch, but a while back he took an amazing picture of his pet dog, for a project organised by Canon."

The picture, by the way, is titled: "what brings me happiness".

¿ I do hope that Rolf Harris's emergence as our latest "national treasure" hasn't caused him to forget his roots. For the bearded scribbler has delivered an eyebrow-raising snub to ABC, the national broadcaster of his Australian homeland.

Last week, when it was announced that Harris is to paint an official portrait of the Queen, staff at ABC's London bureau were instructed to secure a brief interview with the great man. Sadly, their efforts came to naught.

"All we wanted was a five-minute interview, but he wouldn't play ball," I'm told. "His agent said it was out of the question, and that all we could have was a pre-prepared statement. It's a shame, Rolf's still very big in Australia and we think his fans deserve better."

¿ Say what you like about the UK Independence Party, they certainly add a touch of colour to the political landscape.

Tomorrow, their candidate Malcolm Hurst launches his campaign for the South Staffordshire by-election. And how! For he intends to spend the day flying journalists over the constituency in his own Messerschmitt 206.

Quite what this tells us about UKIP - except that they seem curiously fascinated by Nazi memorabilia - isn't immediately clear. But a party spokesman explains all.

"Malcolm opposes plans for an international airport in South Staffs, which would destroy the surrounding green belt land," I'm told. "He wants the media to be able to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding area from a unique vantage point."

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