Is Downing Street showing an unhealthy interest in Wales?

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The Independent Online

* Tony Blair has weathered much criticism for staying away on holiday when the tsunami struck Asian shores, but at last there is a return to business as usual at Downing Street, with accusations that the Prime Minister's office is interfering in areas of government in which they shouldn't be involved.

* Tony Blair has weathered much criticism for staying away on holiday when the tsunami struck Asian shores, but at last there is a return to business as usual at Downing Street, with accusations that the Prime Minister's office is interfering in areas of government in which they shouldn't be involved.

On Monday, the Health Minister for the devolved Welsh government, Jane Hutt, was "moved" from her job, under fire for having failed to reduce hospital waiting lists sufficiently. But according to Labour's opponents, the measure was insisted upon in the corridors of power at Downing Street. Hutt, they claim - although not a Westminster MP - had become seen as a liability in the run-up to the election.

"The timing of her removal is suspect to say the least," says Plaid Cymru's Assembly leader, Elfyn Llywd. "All too often the First Minister [Rhodri Morgan] has tried to reassure us there is clear water between New Labour in Wales and London. This announcement confirms that from policy-making to the appointment of ministers, New Labour in London is firmly in charge of the Welsh Assembly."

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have leapt into the row, too, expressing cynical amazement over the timing of the move.

A Downing Street spokesman, of course, gives the idea short shrift.

"This is a ridiculous suggestion," I am told. "There is no evidence at all to back it up."

* AS GORDON Brown and Alan Milburn fight to take charge of Labour's election campaign, Pandora can't help wondering who picked the music for yesterday's poster launch.

The excruciating spectacle saw Brown and Milburn flanked by actors in fancy dress, accompanied by the 1976 song "Jeans On", by one-hit-wonder David Dundas, left.

More properly known as Lord David, Dundas is the brother of the ninth Viscount Melville, a peer culled from the Lords by Labour's reforms, and a life-long Conservative.

"A 1970s aristocratic popstrel is about as far from Cool Britannia as we're going to get," says one observer. "God knows who chose the track."

Sadly, Lord David was unavailable to comment on his appropriation by the Labour hierarchy. When I called his record company, they hadn't heard from him since 1998.

"He might have moved to Australia," I am told.

* EXCITING NEWS for celebrity babies. The chef Tom Aikens whose Chelsea restaurant was the scene of an undignified squabble over a silver spoon, is creating a range of baby food. The mush - in different flavours, each named after a cartoon character - is set to hit the shelves shortly.

"I have read loads of books about baby nutrition and used my nephews as tasting experts," he said at the Tatler Restaurant Awards. "But I can't tell you which cartoon characters we are using because I'm embarrassed."

The project is a collaboration with Aikens' former employers, the Bamford family, whose considerable fortune comes from JCB machinery.

"They first asked me to do it when I was working for them, to sell it in their farm shop," he adds.

* THE BARCLAY clan seems determined to avoid the same rumours of over-indulgence which plagued the former Telegraph owner, Conrad Black.

Yesterday, young Aidan Barclay - the chairman of the group and son of the paper's joint owner, Sir David - threw a lunch at the paper's Canary Wharf offices for senior members of staff.

"Some Telegraph hacks like a drop of wine with their lunch," says a mole. "But sadly it seems that someone decided it wouldn't be a good idea. At least it meant that everyone went back to work sharp and clear-headed in the afternoon."

What a thought!

* So, the Ministry of Defence has announced that thousands of pages of documents have been contaminated by asbestos and will have to be destroyed. Can this really be, wonders the canny Tory MP Julian Lewis. Or could it be a wheeze to avoid their disclosure under the new Freedom of Information Act?

Either way, lest the Government wants to protect any other sensitive information, Lewis - the shadow Cabinet Office minister who is co-ordinating the Conservatives' parliamentary questions to test the FOI Act - has come up with a competition for Pandora's readers.

"I shall give a bottle of House of Commons champagne to the person who can offer the most ingenious excuse for the Government to use next time they don't want to disclose information," he offers, generously. Answers on a postcard, or by e-mail, please.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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