Lib Dems in a spin over Kennedy's swimwear gaffe

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The Independent Online

* On the day Tony Blair visits Buckingham Palace to seek the dissolution of Parliament, Charles Kennedy has committed a PR blunder that could derail his general election campaign.

* On the day Tony Blair visits Buckingham Palace to seek the dissolution of Parliament, Charles Kennedy has committed a PR blunder that could derail his general election campaign.

The Liberal Democrat leader is interviewed alongside Blair and Michael Howard in the latest edition of the in-flight journal of the budget airline, easyJet.

In reply to the question "Would you favour Speedos or board shorts by the pool?", Blair plumps for surf-wear and Howard says he's no idea what kind of shorts he wears. But Kennedy replies, sternly: "Speedos, I think."

The response caused serious alarm in Kennedy's office, which is rightly worried about the revelation that the pallid Scotsman chooses so-called "packet-bashers". A spin-doctor quickly sought to have it struck from the article, but to no avail.

"Immediately after our interview, Olly Kendal called from Kennedy's office to say he thought it went well, but Charles had meant to say board shorts, not Speedos," says my man at easyJet.

"I don't know if Kendal thought it gave him a bad image or if Kennedy decided to alter the answer himself. But we told him to get lost."

Mindful of the damage done to John Major by the (untrue) claim that he tucks his vest into his underpants, the Liberal Democrats were prickly yesterday. "I don't think we'll get any further into this," said a spokesman before gently replacing the receiver.

* At last, a voice of reason amid the hyperbole of the school dinners debate. The trendy restaurateur Oliver Peyton reckons Jamie Oliver's recent "victory" should be taken with a pinch of salt.

"I like Jamie, he's a good guy, but you've got to get a perspective about this," he tells me.

"The Government might look generous, but they haven't really put their hands in their pockets. You can't feed people well for £1.

"Jamie's show left a myriad of unaddressed issues. Fizzy drinks, for example. So what's actually happened? They've made a TV series and the Government has set up a quango for the election. We'll see how long it survives afterwards."

Peyton isn't just upset at the Government's policy on school dinners: in this month's Waitrose Food Illustrated , he attacks its "crazy" failure to educate chefs and farmers about British produce.

* There are serious "handbags" between Sharon Osbourne and Sally Greene, the theatre impresario who owns the Old Vic.

At the weekend, Osbourne and her daughter Aimee, dropped out of Greene's production of The Vagina Monologues (due to open on Thursday), citing an undisclosed illness.

Yesterday, Greene hit back with this statement: "The producers were shocked to discover a press release had been issued on Friday night saying Sharon and Aimee Osbourne were withdrawing. No communication has been made to them from Sharon Osbourne, her agent or her management, to either inform them or discuss this development."

Adding that the production is in aid of charity, Greene gamely promises that her show will go on, with or without its stars.

* Alastair Campbell has stumbled across his long lost sense of humour. He's autographed a collection of memorabilia to raise funds for Nick Milton, the Labour candidate for Congleton.

The haul includes recent books by two of Campbell's most prominent public enemies, Peter Oborne and Greg Dyke, who variously describe him as "a mean, vindictive bastard", and "a ruthless fanatic".

"Alastair has signed each one, with a special message about the author," says Milton. "I'm auctioning them on my internet site, and the lucky bidder will also receive a personalised e-mail from Alastair's Blackberry. I only hope he avoids swear words, and manages to e-mail the right people."

* Jackie Chan and the late Bruce Lee - both martial arts experts - became famous doing their own stunts, but today's film stars struggle to perform an authentic karate chop.

Maggie Cheung the star of the recent Japanese hit Hero, doesn't even like the new wave of martial arts films started by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

"I always end up doing them, but I'm not a very sporty person," she said at the launch of the Renault French Film Season. "Every time I'm offered one, I think it will be a chance to get fit, but it never happens. I always end up feeling achy on set.

"But it's amazing what they can do with camera angles and special effects: these days, you hardly need to be able to fight at all."