Globetrotting bishop packs his suitcase again

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The Independent Online

* Say what you like about Richard Chartres, the occasionally controversial Bishop of London, he's no stranger to the delights of "working" trips to sunny foreign climes.

On Sunday, there was outrage in church circles when it emerged that the bishop would be spending Easter on a freebie cruise off North Africa, rather than tending to his flock in our capital.

Now I learn that with no sign of an end to the ongoing row, Chartres has decided to fly off to Rome for a conference of European church leaders.

His absence surprises colleagues, because it means missing an important opportunity to mend fences within the Church of England.

Tonight, BBC2 launches its forthcoming series A Passion for Churches at a highbrow bash in London. The great and the good of the CoE will be there in force, but I gather that Chartres' invitation has been unceremoniously declined.

"This is an important TV show for the Church, and tonight is one of our biggest social events in months," reports a colleague. "Given the gossip that flies around at these things, it's surprising, to say the least, that he's giving it a miss."

Asked about the matter yesterday, the bishop's office blamed a "straightforward diary clash".

"He will be in Rome as the Church of England's representative," says a spokesman. "It's an overnight visit and as a senior figure in this country it's his responsibility to be there."

* With or without the Government's censorious Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, there are signs that Bernard Manning's days of free speech are numbered.

The organisers of Glasgow's annual comedy festival have banned the northern bard from their line-up, claiminghe's an "overtly racist act". By way of protest, Manning intends to perform in the city during the fortnight-long shindig.

"I've got lots of friends from up there, like Alex Ferguson, who I play golf with, and my show's a sellout anyway," he wheezes, when I call. "We're going to have a good time. The thing will be good value for money, and we all know that's what the Scots like."

Festival organisers, who have agreed to a performance of Jerry Springer: the Opera, are unamused. "The issue with Manning is that he's an old-school racist and there is nothing clever, unrevealed or unambiguous about his comments," they said.

* The fashion world was shocked to see the edgy Hollywood star Clive Owen sitting a few seats from Peter Mandelson at Giorgio Armani's catwalk show in Milan last week.

Strangely, although it was reported that they later shared a dinner table, Owen is anxious not to be pegged as a chum of the Prince of Darkness.

"Oh no, we definitely weren't there together," Owen tells me. "In fact, much as I would have liked to, I didn't even get to meet the guy. But I do understand that he was there at the show."

Having discussed the author of "bra wars," Owen - who was speaking at the premiere of his new film, Derailed - broke his silence about missing out on the plum role of James Bond.

"I'm a professional," he said philosophically. "I actually think Daniel Craig was an excellent choice and, of course, wish him the best."

* There are few sterner critics of Geoff Hoon than the Daily Mirror's political editor, Kevin Maguire.

Last year, he noted: "Chinless wonder Geoff 'Buff' Hoon gives politicians a bad name."

He then described him as a "sorry excuse for a cabinet minister", and a "second rater" who is "as two-faced as Anne Robinson and as pious as the panzer pope".

Strange, then, to see Maguire sucking up to the Leader of the House over drinks and canapés at his private office last week.

"They've recently become chums, and are even lunching" I'm told. "Either Hoonie's rediscovered his 'mojo,' or it's evidence of the enduring hypocrisy of journalists."

* Gordon Brown is anxious to preserve diplomatic relations with the economic powerhouse that is the People's Republic of China.

Unfortunate, then, that a junior member of his staff should have committed an inadvertent act of political (and possibly professional) hara-kiri.

Yesterday, one Robbie Browse - a No 11 spokesman - mistakenly forwarded an e-mail entitled "advantage of being Chinese" to the entire Treasury press list.

It contained a racist joke of the type favoured by Prince Philip, who once described inhabitants of the Far East as "slitty-eyed".

Five minutes later, there came a second e-mail. "Dear all," wrote Browse. "Please disregard the earlier e-mail, which was sent in error, and please accept my sincere apologies for any offence it has inadvertently caused." Oops!