Equality minister Kelly snubs gay rights march

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The Independent Online

The baby-faced minister has upset leading members of the gay rights lobby by refusing to attend Saturday's "EuroPride" march in London.

Normally, the annual event - which is expected to attract 750,000 people - would be inked into an Equality Minister's diary months in advance.

However, organisers have been unable to persuade Kelly (or any other Labour minister, for that matter) to attend, and speak at a rally in Trafalgar Square.

"We'd love Ruth Kelly to come along," says EuroPride's chief executive, Jason Pollock. "We've sent out invitations and put in several calls to the Labour Party, but we haven't heard a thing back.

"There's been no reply, nothing. At the moment, we have Stephen Williams from the Lib Dems, and Alan Duncan from the Conservatives, but no Labour minister is speaking."

For Kelly, all such events are problematic. She has never voted in favour of gay rights and, as a member of Opus Dei, is required to view homosexuality as a sin.

On other high-profile "gay" occasions, such as last night's launch of the magazine PinkNews, a junior minister has attended in her place.

But on Saturday, no such luck. "She has a prior engagement at the weekend, attending Labour Party's national policy forum," says Kelly's spokesman.

* Eddie Izzard is planning one of the most hazardous assignments in the history of showbusiness.

During his next tour, loosely scheduled for 2007, the cross-dressing comedian hopes to perform in Yemen.

It would be a bold move: the Arabic state has no tradition of stand-up, scant regard for free speech, and takes a dim view of western mores.

And, as if that wasn't enough, Izzard also intends to address the local audiences in their native tongue.

"Eddie was born in Yemen," says a spokesman. "He's been learning Arabic; it's a long-term ambition, but we're thinking about it for the next tour."

The comic is also learning German and Russian, with a view to appearing in those countries. "Russia has been left out of Europe, and it's important to integrate the former Eastern Bloc, so I'm doing my bit," he says.

* James Naughtie, who plays good cop to Today baddie John Humphrys, was yesterday required to interview Jack Straw.

Asking about party funding, the wee Scotsman conceded: "You rightly say that transparency was introduced when you came to power."

It was, reckon BBC colleagues, a pretty strange thing for any (supposedly) neutral interviewer to say. "Labour's commitment to 'transparency' is, at best, questionable," notes one. "As for Naughtie's suggestion that they're the first government to consider the issue, that's just bollocks."

Naughtie, however, is thought to be a closet Labour supporter. He is occasionally accused of soft-soaping their ministers, and once referred to Straw's party as "we".

* David Blunkett's column in yesterday's Sun, headlined "Shut up, Big Ears", offered advice to Charles Clarke.

"Bitterness in politics only corrodes those involved in it," it read. "Would you please put a sock in it."

What does Blunkett know about putting a sock in it? A couple of years ago, he told biographer Stephen Pollard about Cabinet colleagues.

Tessa Jowell was "weak over the licensing Bill", Patricia Hewitt has "no strategic grasp", Jack Straw talks "garbage" about immigration, and Estelle Morris "would let officials get away with murder". Meanwhile, Tony Blair "does not like people who stand up to him", and Gordon Brown "throws his weight around".

Pots and kettles, David?

* If you thought England's cricket team had problems, spare a thought for the pie-chuckers of the Lords and Commons Cricket Club. Today's annual grudge match, against a Fleet Street XI, has been disrupted after MPs were ordered to stay behind in Westminster. "There's a three-line whip," I'm told. "It's something to do with a Commons Bill on land. MPs aren't used to working on a Thursday in June, but if the whips catch MPs swanning off to Rickmansworth to play cricket, they'll be toast."

The team's captain, Labour MP Andrew Miller, negotiated a partial compromise yesterday: whips let him select six players, provided they come from different parties. "We'll ask Commons staff to make up the numbers. There's a chef who's played for us before, and a policeman who is handy," he says.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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