MoD's £300k spending spree on art - for diplomacy's sake

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The Independent Online

* John Reid's cash-strapped Ministry of Defence has spent recent years axing regiments and sacking staff, and can't even supply decent kit to "our boys" in Iraq.

What, then, should we make of news that his ministry spent almost £300,000 on art for its newly-refurbished offices in Whitehall?

In a written answer, Reid has revealed his department spent £232,000, plus VAT, on art last year. Investigations by this column have established this bought just eight oil paintings.

The abstract works were produced to order by artists Zil Hoque and Louise Cattrell. One of Hoque's four paintings, which each cost £40,000 plus VAT, is pictured above.

According to the MoD, the one-off expense was required to turn its pillared hall into an area suitable for "defence diplomacy" and ceremonial events.

"Zil's paintings reflect the aspirational and energetic aspects of the Services, while Louise's portray the physical environment in which they operate," they say. "This was a cost-effective exercise. We had no suitable paintings in our existing collection."

Not everyone's convinced, though. "My 14-month-old baby could do better with the paints I've given her," says Tory MP David Davies, whose written question has exposed the purchase.

"It looks like somebody's had an accident on a bit of canvas. What's wrong with a battle scene?"

* Few of Naomi Campbell's many enemies have ever been quite so outspoken as her former catwalk rival, Tyra Banks.

Back in the 1990s, Banks described la Campbell as "the nastiest person I've worked with", following a backstage row in Paris. They have rarely spoken since.

All that is about to change, though. For Campbell will this week appear on her old sparring partner's TV chat-show in New York.

Sadly, it won't be broadcast in the UK, but Pandora has obtained a transcript of the pre-recorded meeting, and jolly feisty it is too. At one point, Banks accuses Campbell of causing her to retire early.

"I was tired of having to deal with you. I was tired of constantly hearing that I got cancelled from this job or that, or hearing that this photographer was called or that magazine was called and [told] not to use me," she says.

Campbell is said to giggle nervously, before attempting to blame everything on Her Majesty's press.

* Jeremy Clarkson faces yet another brickbat from the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Tom Brake.

Not content with submitting an Early Day Motion against the Top Gear presenter Brake is attempting to haul him before the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

Yesterday, he circulated a dossier on Clarkson's "anti-green" track record to journalists, quoting his comment: "What's wrong with global warming? We might lose Holland but there are other places to go on holiday."

Elsewhere, it highlights the chubby controversialist's belief that environmentalists should "take up something useful, like tearing their tongues out", and his threat to "run down" cyclists who cross his path.

Brake should watch his step. Clarkson's last public enemy, Piers Morgan, ended up with a black eye.

* The leadership election is all over bar the shouting, but still the Tory party's "Two Davids" tour England's shires in search of votes.

On Sunday, they're taking part in a televised debate on the Jonathan Dimbleby Show. It will somewhat intriguingly be filmed at a minor public school, Repton.

"Both Cameron and Davis were a bit iffy about the venue," I'm told. "Cameron because of the Eton issue, and Davis because he thought the audience would be packed with toffs.

"In fact, we're using Repton because it's near to Derby, where a lot of important swing voters live. And the audience will be real punters rather than Tory members."

The school boasts another trump card: both Cameron and Davis will arrive by chopper, and Repton has a helipad. "It's for our Arab students," claimed one parent.

* There's been serious "handbags" between Paul Nicholls and a waiter at Le Relais de Venise l'entrecôte, a new London outpost of the famous Parisian restaurant.

Last week, the modish actor turned up for dinner at the restaurant, which is notable for only selling two dishes: walnut salad starter and steak frites. Because they do not take bookings, he was forced to queue for half an hour for a table.

"Nicholls sat down and we gave him a salad. But then, about half an hour later, the kitchen completely ran out of steak," I'm told.

The waiter rather sheepishly informed Nicholls that he couldn't eat any dinner except the walnut salad starter he'd already been served. He quite understandably hit the roof.

" We did give the salad to him on the house, but he was still fuming," adds my source. "It's a real shame, as he's the first proper celebrity we've had in." And hopefully not the last.