Identikit press releases for backbench dummies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

* When Alastair Campbell was fingered cut-and-pasting the notorious "dodgy dossier", New Labour promised it would never happen again.

Lightning does strike twice, though. For the party's spin-machine has a similarly cunning plan to make us forget about the chaos that has accompanied Charles Clarke's departure, from the Home Office.

Yesterday, Labour MPs were ordered to fill in an "identikit" press release, trumpeting a headline-grabbing scheme the Government wants to dominate the news agenda: a nationwide knives amnesty.

A letter, signed by the party's director of political services, Fiona Gordon, told them to take part in a photo-call, before sending a (seemingly) personal press release to local newspapers.

The dummy press release, leaked to this column yesterday, contains several blanks, which MPs are asked to complete in order to pass the whole thing off as their own work.

Like the "dodgy dossier", it makes several glaring errors. The introduction names Charles Clarke as Home Secretary - when he was sacked last week.

Sample paragraphs offer a splendid insight into New Labour's attitude towards the subtle art of modern media management.

"(Insert name) MP endorsed the drive to tackle knife crime and violence in (insert area) and across the UK," reads one. "(Insert name) MP said: "This knife amnesty is about creating safer streets throughout (insert area)."

Only time will tell how many MPs filled in the release. "Anyone who does is a total drone," says one.

* After far too long a break, Plum Sykes has resumed her charm offensive against the Fourth Estate.

The transatlantic socialite abruptly decided that Her Majesty's press corps wouldn't be welcome at the launch of her novel, The Debutante Divorcee, last night.

"Plum says no to gossip columnists," said a source close to the venue, Annabel's. "It's a bit rich, since her own brother, Tom, is a gossip hack. But there you go."

La Plum - who once said "I don't like English journalists. Apart from anything else, they dress so badly" - has form as an indecisive host.

Two years ago, her publisher, Penguin, phoned hacks to revoke invites to the launch of her debut potboiler, Bergdorf Blondes.

Pandora sneaked into that bash anyway. At the time of going to print, I was attempting to do the same thing all over again.

* The longest pause of Harold Pinter's long and distinguished career is about to come to an end.

Tonight, the great playwright will perform a new work, Apart from That, at a fundraiser for the Longford Trust in Temple.

It's Pinter's first such outing since December, when illness prevented him collecting a Nobel Prize in Sweden. Instead, he sent a pre-recorded acceptance speech, attacking George Bush.

Touchingly, Pinter's loyal wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, will be narrating parts of the new poem with him.

"It's no secret there's been a great worry about Harold's health of late," says an organiser. "So it's even more of an honour that he's agreed to attend and perform."

* Ken Livingstone has invited the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, to lunch at City Hall.

Even by the London Mayor's standards, it's a provocative gesture - Chavez has a controversial record on human rights - and several guests have refused to attend. One such is Bob Neill, the leader of the London Assembly Tories.

"Chavez is well documented as having undermined pluralistic democracy, intimidated political opponents, rigged elections to Congress, and packed the Supreme Court with his own supporters," reads his RSVP, which has fallen into my hands. "He is not a person I wish to meet, and I do not believe he is an appropriate person to entertain at City Hall."

Ken's meal with his left-wing chum is on Monday. Estimated cost to the taxpayer: £5,000.

* Perhaps, when Patricia Hewitt gets put out of her misery at the Department of Health, she may consider a career in advertising.

The erotic retailer Ann Summers is using the Health Secretary as the "face" of its "national nurses day" later this month.

Adverts for the promotion (in which NHS staff get a 20 per cent discount) carry a picture of Hewitt holding a device described as a Rampant Rabbit.

A speech bubble directed towards her mouth trumpets: "This is the best ever week for the NHS".

"We didn't actually get Patricia's permission, because it's a viral advert," says the firm's MD, Jacqueline Gold. "I'm sure she won't mind, though: we've sent a Rampant Rabbit to her office, by way of a thank you."

pandora@independent.co.uk

Comments