Hoon fuming over order to focus on Ugandan relations

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The Independent Online

* Poor Geoff Hoon. Already a figure of fun in Westminster for his repeated demotions in the Cabinet, he may have been thrown the final soggy biscuit by his boss, Foreign Secretary "Ma" Beckett.

After the pair had a flaming stand-up row this week, she refused to let him answer questions in the Commons on Europe. (Hoon is Europe Minister.)

She reportedly told him he could instead answer one on northern Uganda. Hoon, who jealously guards his Europe patch, apparently declined to do so, and sat there silently, steaming.

The important issue of Hoon's redundancy (no double entendre intended) has been raised by "the Tories' Colonel Blimp", Keith Simpson. The moustachioed crusader has tabled a question asking Beckett: "What is the point of Geoff Hoon?"

Col Simpson tells me: "I want to know if he is still Europe Minister. If he's not considered important enough to speak, what is the point in having him? And why should he be in the Cabinet?

"He just sits there and sulks and gets grumpy if anyone questions him. I understand he has been demoted, but if he's fed up, why doesn't he resign and let someone do the job who's interested in it?

"This is an important job - he's not Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Paperclips. We need to know what's going on." Simpson hopes for a response (if not an answer) next week.

Says the Foreign Office: "We won't be commenting on this now. We'll deal with his question in the usual way." (Dousing it in a barrel of Whitehall legalese.)

* News to bring a beaming smile to those proud, green-wellied folk out in t'country.

Thanks to her recent star turn in Stephen Frears's The Queen, Helen Mirren has delivered an unexpected boost to sales of waxed jackets in New York.

Mirren appears in the film sporting Barbour's signature green garb - an accessory that has been noted by fans of Liz and Co in the States, where the movie opened four weeks ago.

"The first thing customers say is, 'Have you seen the movie The Queen?'" explains the manager of Manhattan's Barbour shop. "Then they say they want the jacket the Queen wears."

In case you wish to rush to your computer/ nearest stockist and reach for the rural dog walker's holy grail, Mirren wears two types: one the Beaufort (£159), the other a quilted Liddesdale (£69.95).

But no Land Rovers on the grass in Central Park.

* Could it be that Salman Rushdie has been harbouring a deep secret from his wife, the gorgeous ex-model Padma Lakshmi? I ask because of the revered novelist's curious comments in an interview he has granted The Book Show, which returns to television this evening on the Artsworld channel.

Discussing his book Shalimar the Clown, Rushdie compares the lead character - the dapper ambassador to India, Max Ophuls - to Bill Clinton "in that he's very sexually attractive and active".

When pressed by the startled presenter Mariella Frostrup about his personal feelings towards the former US president, Rushdie responds: "I'm really very attracted to him myself. Except he is a bit pink."

* The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's newly appointed Attorney General arrived in town on Tuesday afternoon to deliver a talk at Chatham House about how to rebuild his country's legal system.

Unfortunately the Foreign Office lackey assigned to Mr Abdul Jabed Sabit forgot to inform the authorities at Heathrow that he was not an international terrorist - prompting a minor diplomatic skirmish while he was detained by passport control.

"He got to the immigration counter," explains an embassy spokesman, "and a steward examined his passport and then disappeared with it and kept him for 40 minutes.

"He was very frustrated."

* Hallowe'en revellers in London's Covent Garden could barely believe their fake-bloodshot eyes on Tuesday night when they spotted a ghoul in the window of the L K Bennett shoe store.

The pale apparition turned out to be the former Tory party chairwoman Theresa May, hosting "An Evening of Shoes, Shopping and Politics" - an attempt to persuade more young women to enter Parliament (on the blue side of the house).

A matron with a "No Press" clipboard resisted the temptation to usher Pandora's reporter straight in front of a bus - no doubt distracted by the gaggle of militant feminists with placards and loud voices, who were heckling invitees outside.

These ladies ventured that the shoe shopping evening was "a patronising, fake, girly appeal to women based on the idea that we are airheads incapable of understanding real politics".

Emmeline Pankhurst's ghost was spotted at Till Two with a pair of scarlet kitten heels.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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