Brown breaks ranks over Queen's birthday present

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The Independent Online

* Call it mischief-making, call it a slip of the tongue, but Gordon Brown is developing an uncanny ability to insert spanners into the works of Tony Blair's well-oiled spin machine.

Yesterday, he ruined a Downing Street plan to prevent members of the Cabinet from having to admit to financing an 80th birthday present for the Queen.

A "small token of appreciation", worth roughly £700, will be passed to Her Majesty today, following a whip-round of ministers.

However, in a bid to save the blushes of staunch republicans such as John Prescott and Charles Clarke, No 10 spent recent weeks saying "we're not going to get into who gave how much or what" towards it.

Yesterday morning, the policy of silence seemed to be holding firm: spokesmen for every member of the Cabinet referred inquiries on the issue to Downing Street.

But when Pandora rang the Treasury at lunchtime, we were proudly told: "Both the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary have made a contribution. In fact they've contributed the maximum amount."

Three hours later, Downing Street was forced into a humiliating U-turn. At its 4pm briefing, reporters learnt that the entire Cabinet had paid up.

Prescott, Clarke, and fellow republicans were thus left red-faced. They should have seen it coming: last month, Brown, above, broke another organised Cabinet silence to deny that he, his deputy, or his wife have offshore bank accounts.

* The last time Tom Cruise visited London for a film premiere, he was squirted in the face by an errant water pistol.

His next big date on one of Leicester Square's red carpets, Tuesday's premiere of Mission Impossible 3, also looks like being a damp squib.

Owing to the fact that it falls just a week after Cruise's "child" bride, Katie Holmes, pictured together left, gave birth to their first daughter, the star of the show is now unlikely to attend.

Sadly, the two other "big names" attached to the film, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laurence Fishburne, have also already cried off.

With four days to go, organisers of the premiere are therefore staring down the barrel of what threatens to be an eye-wateringly expensive PR flop.

"At the moment, it does look like Tom won't be making it," says a spokesman for United Independent Pictures.

"Philip Seymour Hoffman is going to be in Mexico and Laurence Fishburne is somewhere else. But we are working hard to sort something out."

* Like a 21st-century Floella Benjamin, Kate Winslet is making her debut as a happy-clappy children's entertainer.

She has quietly recorded a song on Dog Train, an audio book released next week by the American children's writer Sandra Boynton.

Although Winslet has seldom sung in public before, Boynton informs me she's blessed with a cracking pair of lungs.

"I knew Kate could sing, because, if you listen carefully, she does a bit on Sense and Sensibility," Boynton tells me.

"Anyway, she's a friend of a friend, and agreed to help with Dog Train if we could do the recording in a studio in the country, where she could bring her kids."

The result, a two-minute ditty called "I Need a Nap", is intended to satirise a Disney love duet.

"I called it a parody," adds Boynton.

"But Kate's husband [Sam Mendes] insisted that it's actually a pastiche."

* My telephone stands to attention. It's a representative of the Labour Party, "concerned" by yesterday's item on Patricia Hewitt.

You'll recall that I published a letter from the Health Secretary to Labour MPs, detailing plans to ease the NHS crisis.

Backbenchers were instructed to write to local papers, saying: "I'm proud of the work that (insert name of NHS trust) does, and pleased that they have managed to keep to their budget."

My caller, who declines to reveal his name, highlights a disclaimer in Hewitt's leaked letter.

"PLP briefings are the property of the Labour Party," it reads. "Publishing of PLP political briefing is prohibited, and may be unlawful."

I'll take my chances.

* Another day, another big name is wiped from the exhaustive Christmas card list of Nigel Havers.

This week, the presenter of Grumpy Old Men has taken a pop at the bespectacled U2 frontman, Bono.

Speaking with customary elegance, he'll criticise Bono's interest in international politics.

"Bono? I'm sorry, he really is the bollocks of all bollocks, isn't he?" says Havers. "Go back and sing your songs and don't talk politics, please.

"It's like someone asking me about politics. I'll tell you what I think about politics, if you want to know: it's all bollocks."

It might come with the territory, but when this series of GOM is up, Havers may not have too many friends left. A few weeks back, he used the show to dub the entire population of France "arses".

pandora@independent.co.uk

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