Farmers worry that new minister is a 'semi-veggie'

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The Independent Online

For the green-welly brigade, it threatens to be the final insult: David Miliband, the new minister for the countryside, stands accused of turning up his Blairite nose at the roast beef of old England.

The incoming Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sparked concern in farming circles yesterday, after his office refused to confirm or deny rumours that he doesn't touch red meat.

Since his new job will require much tub-thumping on behalf of the British meat industry, opponents of the red stuff scent a PR coup.

The Vegetarian Society tell me they're now launching an investigation, and reckon the bright young star of New Labour, above, to be a "semi-veggie".

"We've a contact with David who is going to let us know about his eating habits," said their spokesman yesterday.

"Our suspicion is that he does eat fish and poultry, and is, in fact, a meat reducer, as opposed to a proper veggie."

Miliband comes from a Jewish family, so may avoid pork for religious reasons. However, rural campaigners professed concern about his attitude towards other meat products.

"Take it as read: if this guy doesn't eat beef, we'll be very upset," said Robin Page, of the Countryside Restoration Trust.

Yesterday, Pandora asked Defra three times if Miliband eats meat. Twice they failed to respond; on the third occasion, I got a "no comment".

West bites the hand that feeds him

Dominic West is about to receive an object lesson in the harsh commercial reality of modern theatre.

The modish actor, left, is currently at the National Theatre, starring in a play about white-collar crime called The Voysey Inheritance.

In an official inter- view, included with the PR bumf, he offers a leftish critique of the banking industry.

"I talked to the head of finance at the National Theatre, and asked if the crime my character commits - speculating on a client's capital, and pocketing the in- terest - would be considered a crime today," he said.

"It seemed to me to be what banks do all the time. But she said: 'Absolutely, that's embezzlement'."

So far so good. Except, it turns out, that the NT's production of Voysey has been sponsored by a financial firm: Travelex.

"We have to do business with banks," says a source there. "Let's hope they've got a sense of humour."

Tate's bonnie lassie

Catherine Tate is certainly rolling out the big names for her next appearance on our TV screens.

Having been inundated with requests from celebrities seeking a role in the forthcoming BBC series, Tate has opted to collaborate with Bonnie Langford.

The likeable (if slightly unfashionable) 1980s superstar recently resurrected her career in the musical Chicago.

"I'm delighted, because I've always been a big fan of Catherine's, especially the rude old lady sketch," Langford tells me.

"I like all the effing and blinding she puts in the show. I've no idea what they're going to do with me, so I'm a bit nervous, but as long as they don't get me to change her colostomy bag, I'm sure I'll be fine."

The last Straw?

Jack Straw's sacking - predicted by this column last year - was also smartly foreseen by the Russian ambassador, Yury Fedotov.

Fedotov had been invited to follow in the footsteps of Condoleezza Rice, and pay a visit to the Foreign Secretary's Blackburn constituency later this month.

But on Thursday, fully 24 hours before Tony Blair told Straw he was getting the boot, the Ruskies were phoned with news that the visit was "on hold".

Margaret Beckett, the new Foreign Secretary, will now have to decide if she'll make up for the snub by rescheduling a trip up north.

"In terms of crap places for a day-trip, Marge's constituency, Derby, is on a par with Blackburn," reckons an FO source.

Lap-dancers give red Ken a bloody nose

Like many politicians before him, Ken Livingstone is recovering from a regrettable encounter with the lap-dancing industry.

Last month, I revealed that London's Mayor was trying to block the opening of The Rembrandt, a "gentlemen's club" near to his City Hall HQ.

He complained, somewhat bizarrely, that a venue promising "an erotic fun night out with the guys" might offend female members of his staff. The Lord Chancellor, however, has taken a different view.

"We were notified on Friday that the Mayor's objection has been thrown out," says The Rembrandt's owner, Brian Baker.

"The whole thing's caused me huge amounts of trouble. Ken seems to like sticking his nose into things he knows nothing about. It's terribly arrogant."

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