Comedian starts PR war about spin in the jungle

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The Independent Online

I hear of a row between the comedian Mark Thomas and Peter Mandelson's old mucker, Colin Byrne, right, who runs the PR company Weber Shandwick.

Their conflict begins in the hills and jungles of Colombia, which have for four decades seen battle, with left-wing guerrillas (the Farc) pitted against the government and right-wing paramilitaries.

Both guerrillas and paramilitaries use kidnappings and death squads to terrorise populations. The Colombian government has been condemned for tacit collaboration in paramilitary massacres. Since 2003, 460 Colombian trade unionists have been assassinated.

Thomas, whose gags have elevated leanings, and who has written a book on torture and the arms trade, fumes that Weber Shandwick has accepted work with the Colombian government - claiming it to be unethical.

"Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist," he says. "The government is found wanting. So for someone to come along and say, 'We'll show you how to do good PR' is disgraceful.

"Where will people draw the line? Would Weber Shandwick want to see the swastikas before deciding not to work with someone?"

Weber Shandwick replies that it has "been hired by the democratically elected Colombian government to advise on a range of issues" - "mainly... [seeking] to promote dialogue, ideas and experience of how best to combat cocaine production, trafficking and abuse".

No sign of talks or disarmament over this one.

Dickie's dilemma over Rada prop chop

Although a pillar of the thespian establishment, Lord Attenborough finds himself embroiled in a row over the future of the nation's leading drama school.

The dispute centres on controversial proposals which might see the scrapping of the long- established Props Department at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, of which "Dickie" is president.

The section has produced talented designers for film and theatre, but could, Rada insiders claim, be "incorporated" into the stage management course. Opponents are preparing to lobby Attenborough with a petition in protest, asking for his intervention.

Rada's principal, Nicholas Barter, tells me nothing has been decided and that there are other proposals in a 96-page consultation. "We'd be absolutely mad to damage tuition. We must be fit for purpose."

More after an interval.

On the fashion beat

A strange guest at the grand reopening (by designer Zandra Rhodes) of London's Fashion and Textile Museum: Snow Patrol's drummer, Jonny Quinn, right.

The Ulsterman looked a little green as his aunt - Patricia Quinn of Rocky Horror fame, below right - dragged him around. "I just moved to London two weeks ago," he tells me, "so my aunt's showing me the sights. I wasn't really sure who Zandra Rhodes was, but Auntie told me I had to come."

Proud "Auntie" was making sure everyone knew exactly who her nephew was. She also told guests that Jonny's girlfriend, Marianne, was his fiancée.

She used to cause a stir when visiting the family in Belfast: "She wore her feathers and embarrassed us all."

It seems she hasn't lost her touch.

Gordon's win

A bit of a Pandora "exclusive" here - so just remember where you heard the result of the next general election first. (If I'm wrong, then please pretend you never read this.)

The grand old man of British polling, Sir Bob Worcester, has passed judgement, and confidently predicts that on 4 June 2009, Gordon Brown will beat David Cameron by a majority of "15 to 25 seats". The Kansas-born MORI founder told an audience at Coventry University: "Cameron's now becalmed in the polls. He ain't going nowhere."

Not that the Brownites should rest on their laurels. The veteran pollster warned: "Gordon still has to convince the public of his qualities." Nothing like leaving the door open behind you.

Going down the memory hole

Intrigue at the London School of Economics, where student newspaper The Beaver sees dark forces at play, plaguing its invitation to the (grudgeful?) former investment banker Polly Courtney.

Courtney used to work for a big City firm (Merrill Lynch), but left in disillusionment. She has since penned Golden Handcuffs - a fictional tale of overwork, sexism, vicious backstabbing, affairs and drug taking.

On Thursday she is scheduled to sign books at LSE for undergraduates - from whose ranks Merrill Lynch and others bolster their numbers each year. Says one scribe: "There have been attempts within campus to stop this happening." Refusing to elaborate, she continues, cryptically: "There are a lot of people here who take money from the big banks - not just the university career service, it's not them." Cue X-Files music.