Eat, drink - and solve the problem of party funding?

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The Independent Online

It is one of the great questions of modern British politics - especially for those parliamentarians who have spent all their money and whose complex, concealed system of long-term loans has fallen apart.

Just how do you get people who don't support your party to pay for its daily upkeep, as well as for your general election campaigns?

The answer, according to the Electoral Commission, is to put up 50 conference delegates (some having flown in from Australia, Canada, the US, Lithuania and Romania) in the four-star St James's Park Crowne Plaza Hotel, 300m from Buckingham Palace.

Then, over the course of four days, you stimulate their minds with flights on the London Eye (buffet included), a drinks reception at the Canadian High Commission, dinner at the Globe Theatre and a conference speech from Jack Straw.

After all that thinking the guests will need chauffeur-driven transfers around London and use of the sauna and whirlpool.

Hopefully, by then, they will have solved our conundrum - thus fulfilling the aim of the Electoral Commission's "Conference on the Regulation of Political Party Financing", which begins on 4 September.

"We have invited people from relevant bodies across the world who can share their ideas and experiences about party financing," says a spokeswoman.

"It is going to cost £38,000. I'm afraid I don't have the breakdown."

The Electoral Commission promises to publish the findings on its website. Look forward to it.

Laryngitis beats love: Brand off to bed alone

This week, Russell Brand, arguably the summer's hottest ticket, was forced to cancel two stand-up gigs at Edinburgh, suffering from laryngitis.

Disappointed fans can console themselves that he clearly wasn't faking.

Brand - who has earned himself a reputation as one of London's foremost swordsmen after an alleged fling with Kate Moss - also pulled the plug on a romantic evening with a young lady.

Dr Sarah Kennedy won the date through a competition in Edinburgh's The List magazine. "It has been cancelled twice, once for a photoshoot and then because Russell fell ill," the editor tells me.

"It's now supposed to be happening on Sunday night but Russell can terminate it at any point.

"We've warned the winner he might just turn around and say, 'You're a minger, I'm off'. But hopefully she will get camera phone pictures of the jacuzzi."

Rubens not rock

Flashing a cheeky two fingers to the art elite, which only recently began to acknowledge his talent, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood has opened his own unstuffy gallery, Scream, in Mayfair.

At the opening night, I ask him where the other Stones are. "Are you jokin'?" quizzes Ronnie. "They're probably in bloody bed by now." Some blockhead with a wire earpiece ushers him away before we can talk about his art.

Fortunately his wife Jo explains: "We've been to see Rubens in Paris, the Guernica [by Picasso] in Madrid and Van Gogh in Amsterdam. Ronnie found it inspirational: since then he's either been talking about them or painting."

Just where does he find the time, having to rehearse for the Stones' current "Bigger Bang" world tour? She laughs: "I think they know the songs by now."

Culture comic

The songs of scarecrow Aussie pianist Tim Minchin parody life as a Baghdad policeman and liken love to a cancerous growth.

Just the chap to liven up BBC2's Culture Show. Once Minchin finishes at Edinburgh, his thoughts will turn to the mini-documentary on Mozart he is presenting to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.

"They heard me playing at a production of Amadeus in Perth," he tells me, ahead of tonight's multiple sclerosis fundraiser at the Gilded Balloon, which also features Stephen K Amos.

"I'm looking at Mozart's influence on popular culture: living fast and dying young; the chord sequences in pop and rock; and how some artists seem to be foul-mouthed ratbags outside social norms."

Labour's sticky fingers on fitness

On Tuesday, when the toned Caroline Flint was appointed the "minister for fitness", she ordered the country to exercise and cut junk food. Funny, then, that on the same day, the Electoral Commission revealed Labour recently received just under £10,000 from chocolate giant Nestlé. Even ignoring allegations about Nestlé's marketing of breast milk substitutes in the developing world, a "king size" Yorkie bar contains 459 calories, almost one-fifth of an adult male's recommended daily intake.

"The donation was for the cost of a stand at the last Labour Party conference," says a Nestlé spokesman. "We have a stand at each of the major party's conferences." I know I compared Labour's love of big business to "a toddler on its way to the sweet shop". But still...