Is Ruth preparing move to a better part of Bolton?

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* Another year kicks off and yet another public relations battle looms on the horizon for Ruth Kelly. Kelly is facing a catty backlash from Labour members in her Bolton West constituency over recent rumours she was plotting a "chicken run" to fight the next election for nearby Bolton South East.

The constituency, which will be made vacant by the retiring MP Brian Iddon, currently enjoys a healthy five-figure majority compared to Kelly's precarious margin of just over 2,000.

So far, Kelly has refused to deny the claims, her spokesman only telling reporters that "she does not comment on speculation."

But her silence has caused quite a stir amongst her local Labour party, who want to hear her make her intentions public.

"Everyone knows the next election round here could be a bit of a bum clincher," says one. "We can't afford to lose any credibility locally.

"It's time to either get on the battle bus or get on your bike."

The Conservatives, who have selected a strong local candidate to take on Ulster-born Kelly should she stay put, have seized the opportunity to declare her running scared.

Says a Tory spokesman: "If Ruth Kelly wanted to nip this in the bud, all she would have to do is deny the speculation and confirm she is standing in Bolton West."

Perhaps a higher authority might have to intervene. Bolton South East was reportedly being lined up as a plum safe seat for the Prime Minister's speech-writer, Philip Collins.

* When Cherie Blair goes out knocking for her next celebrity "freebie" she's best advised not to go sniffing around one of Marco Pierre White's London restaurants.

"I believe that the current leader is there to feather his nest. Cherie's there to capitalise on it all, pushing herself forward." he says.

"It's very wrong. This isn't America. She's not the first lady. OK, she's a barrister, but is she any good?

"Oh, human rights causes! Very nice. Always question the motives. I don't like champagne socialists. I don't like freeloaders."

White who was speaking in the new issue of Q magazine, needn't fret.

On past occasions when the Blairs have ventured out of No 10 for a spot of dinner, they've shown a fondness for haunts belonging to MPW's other great bête noire, Gordon Ramsay.

* Despite a reputation as one of the world's leading performers you'd be wrong in thinking Cate Blanchett had earned the right to be recognised around Hollywood.

During recent promotional duties for her new film, Notes On A Scandal, she revealed the ageing starlet Faye Dunaway once mistook her for Kate Winslet.

"Faye came up to me at a screening and wanted me to do this project. I said it sounded fantastic," she said. "So she turned to her friend and said, 'Debbie, this is Kate Winslet'.

"I had to ask, 'So, do you want me to do it or do you want Kate to do it'?"

It's hard to decide which actress should be more offended. Blanchett unlike Winslet, belongs to that proud club of Oscar winners, whilst Winslet is some seven years her junior.

* The racehorse trainer Andrew Balding placed a proud announcement in the court and social pages of yesterday's Daily Telegraph flagging a recent addition to the Balding clan.

The ad gave the happy news that his wife Anna Lisa gave birth last Friday to a baby son, Jonno, "a brother to Tonto and Puddle", who I'm informed are in fact the loyal and trusted family hounds.

Balding, whose sister Claire is the "face" of the BBC's racing coverage, inherited his Kingsclere-based stables from his father Ian.

It's probably too early to say whether Jonno will one day also be allowed to follow suit, or whether he'll be mucking out whilst Tonto and Puddle bark the orders.

* Exploding bombs aren't the only worry for the British men and women manning our embassy in Bangkok. They're also having to fight tooth and nail to avoid a major diplomatic fallout with their Thai colleagues.

A potential row is brewing over a bronze statue of Queen Victoria, which needs moving after part of the embassy compound was recently flogged off to a local property developer. Unfortunately, once the statue is moved the 20-ton, white marble plinth on which it rests is likely to fracture.

While British diplomats are apparently happy to find a cheaper alternative, the Thai staff are stamping their feet.

"The statue and plinth have been there for yonks," I'm told. "The Thai workers see the Queen Vic as a fertility symbol - she's become a bit of of a lucky charm to them."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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