Does Milburn fancy some 'glass in his porridge'?

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The Independent Online

* Tony Blair's buddy Alan Milburn, the former health minister, is an outspoken man. Only last month Pandora overheard him saying that his Labour colleague Harriet Harman should campaign to become deputy prime minister on the "I'm fucking useless vote". Such a charmer!

Intriguing, then, to see a "breaking news" bulletin on the website of stellar speaking agency JLA, which flogs the after-dinner warbling talents of Alastair Campbell, William Hague and the like for up to £25,000 a time. "Douglas McWilliams [economics guru] and Alan Milburn explore the legacy of Gordon Brown's Chancellorship and the future policy environment," it flashed.

Milburn and Brown's Oliver Stone-esque clashes go back four years to their disagreement over foundation hospitals, with further bad blood in 2004 when Blair brought in Milburn over Brown's head to run Labour's election campaign. The Brownites began an effective assassination campaign dubbed "Kill Mil".

So it's fair to wonder if Milburn might have any acerbic words to share on "Gordon Brown's legacy".

Says the alarmed gaffer at JLA: Yes, Milburn has been to see him "to discuss speaking topics". Unfortunately, "the researcher got the wrong end of the stick, and shoved this on the website without permission. We're taking it down."

Even the daring Milburn might, in the current environment, care to remember the words of David Blunkett, a diarist more eminent and reasonable than this one: he who crosses Gordon asks for "glass in his porridge".

* Ever since Jim Davidson was declared bankrupt back in July, he has laid low in the sunny climes of Dubai.

It's probably the best place for him, because back in Blighty, there's much huffing and puffing over his former pad near Dorking, Surrey.

Pinkhurst Farm, an opulent Grade II-listed, seven-bedroom farmhouse with blood-red carpets, sunken spa baths, wall-length mirrors and other delights, first went on the market in 2004 at £4m.

It was withdrawn, then revalued at £3.2m, then withdrawn, then revalued at £2.5m. Agents have withdrawn it yet again after failing to find anyone to meet the asking price, and it is "driving them bloody bananas".

Davidson told reporters that the property is in the hands of HM Revenue & Customs - no doubt with creditors in mind.

What's not to love about the place?

* Imelda Staunton was the star guest (and judge) at the TCM Classic Shorts Awards on Wednesday - arriving straight from the set of the new Harry Potter movie, which she joked was likely to be "six hours long".

The British actress spent her summer filming a new version of The Wind in the Willows, in which she appears as the barge woman alongside Little Britain actor Matt Lucas (Toad).

What was it like working with him, I asked? "Very, very, very hot."

Come again? (Lucas is funny - but also short, fat and odd, in a genius way.)

"Oh no!" she continued, "I meant the temperature! We had to film it in Romania where the summer is blistering. We couldn't rely on British weather."

Or on producers' willingness to dig deeper and support our film industry.

* The Queen's back complaint, which has forced her to curtail recent public duties, has prompted fears in Westminster that she may not be fit to deliver her speech at the state opening of Parliament in two weeks.

One royal watcher informs Pandora that the coach in which she arrives at the occasion is "a terrible rattler" and would put Liz in huge discomfort were she still to be nursing an injury.

"It is too premature to say whether she will be up to it," says a Palace spokesman, admitting that he didn't know whom - if anyone - might step in to replace her.

Rumours that the Plant Whisperer will be drafted in as a substitute are as yet short of the mark - although his chat would raise the Houses' recent level of debate.

* The former Mirror editor Piers Morgan surfaces in the forthcoming issue of Car Magazine, extolling the virtues of his Mercedes-Benz CLS. "Women find it unbearably sexy," he writes. "I can see it in their eyes as they double-take at pedestrian crossings. At least I think it's the car they're drooling over."

His modest joy is unfortunately punctured by a 39mph altercation with a speed camera in a 30mph zone. Any resulting conviction will give Morgan 12 points on his licence - and mean he has to dust down his old mountain bike to get about town.

"I'm just going through the paperwork now," he tells me, "and it's not looking good. The last time I was in court for a motoring offence the judge gave me a look of, 'If I could bring back hanging I would'.

"But I don't think I'll be calling Mr Loophole for now."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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