Howard bandwagon: bright young things only need apply

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* Michael Howard's political opponents accuse him of "jumping on bandwagons" in the run-up to the general election. But the Tory leader is in desperate need of some people to jump on a bandwagon of his own.

* Michael Howard's political opponents accuse him of "jumping on bandwagons" in the run-up to the general election. But the Tory leader is in desperate need of some people to jump on a bandwagon of his own.

In order to ensure that Howard's campaign gets off to a flying start, the Conservatives are attempting to recruit a "rent-a-crowd" of bright young people to cheer him on at the campaign launch.

An e-mail to Tory agents in south London has fallen into Pandora's hands, laying bare the details of their masterplan.

"As soon as it's known that Blair is going to see the Queen, Michael Howard will be launching the campaign at a central London venue," it reads. "We're looking for people who can be on standby to form an enthusiastic crowd behind Michael at this launch.

"We'd like as representative a crowd as possible in terms of age etc. It is a matter of being in mobile phone contact... and of course being in a position where you can just stop whatever you are doing and turn up. There is no such thing as having too many people for this."

The e-mail was marked "high importance", and sent this week by Ian Sanderson, the party's campaign director for London southern.

He was unavailable for comment yesterday, but a Tory spokesman explained, gamely: "No crowd is spontaneous."

* KEVIN SPACEY is in serious need of a tonic, following the lukewarm reception to his first offerings as artistic director of the Old Vic.

So it's odd to discover that the Hollywood star won't even be appearing in the full run of his (much-touted) next play at the theatre.

Despite star billing in The Philadelphia Story , which opens in May, he's only going to tread the boards for 10 weeks of the show's four-month run, due to filming commitments.

"We've been told that he'll be in the States, playing Lex Luthor in Superman Returns ," says a source at the theatre.

"I'm sure it'll command a nice fee, but it does send out a pretty strange message about his priorities."

The Old Vic said yesterday that they were casting an understudy to take Spacey's role during the absence, from mid-June to August.

* LORD FOSTER'S former business partner Ken Shuttleworth - who controversially quit to set up a rival firm last year - was seen on Wednesday visiting his former chum's London office.

"Ken pitched up at Albion Riverside with a big grin on his face, and a stack of papers under his arm," says a witness. "We were amazed, since he's supposed to be estranged, never to return."

Alas, it was no reconciliation. Albion Riverside has been shortlisted for an architecture prize, which Shuttleworth says he's to judge.

The two didn't even meet during the visit. Which is perhaps as well: before Christmas, Pandora revealed that Foster, above, had airbrushed Shuttleworth from a "team" photo commemorating the Erotic Gherkin.

* PADDY ASHDOWN feels the hand of history on his shoulder. For the first time since leaving office, he won't be able to campaign for the Liberal Democrats at the general election.

In a letter to Liberal Democrat News , Pantsdown says he's got to be in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the UN.

"Due to my current position, I've had to remove myself from political activities," he explains. "This is going to be another interesting set of elections and I wish you all well."

In coded reference to the health problems of his successor, he adds: "I would especially like to wish Charles Kennedy all the very best. The stresses and strains of being the party leader during the election year are great."

* Tony Blair tells porkie pies about football - he once offered dewy-eyed childhood memories of sitting behind the goal at St James' Park, when the Newcastle United ground was actually terraced until the 1980s - but Gordon Brown is a man of his word.

To that end, the Chancellor has given a "things I know about football" interview to Sky Sports' Saturday morning show, Soccer AM. "He's a dyed-in-the-wool Raith Rovers fan, and really knows the club, down to quite nerdy stuff," I'm told. "It comes across extremely well."

A lone cloud mars the Chancellor's horizon: Raith are 20 points adrift at the bottom of the Scottish First Division and have just been relegated.