Oona suns herself in Sri Lanka as George bows out of Bow

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The Independent Online

* Do not come crying to Oona King, people of Bethnal Green and Bow. Having spectacularly ousted their former MP, the faithless voters of the east London constituency are now trying to get hold of the Labour politician in their droves.

George Galloway, the MP they elected in her place, has abandoned them to take a starring role in the Big Brother house, and yesterday missed a crucial vote on the Crossrail enterprise that will affect his constituents enormously. But King could not care less.

While she has never been more popular, King has been careful to leave Tower Hamlets without a trace. But now Pandora can reveal where she is.

She has taken a long holiday in Sri Lanka, switched off her mobile phone, is not returning calls or e-mails, and is not expected to return until the whole sorry spectacle of Galloway in his swimming trunks on Channel 4 is well and truly over.

Friends also say that she is working on a novel which she has made it her new year resolution to finish.

The London Labour Party is organising a series of anti-Galloway stunts in the area this week, including alternative constituency surgeries. A group of residents has set up a "Get back to work, George" website.

"It's unfortunate," says a spokesman for London Labour. "But I think she went away at about Christmas and she couldn't be expected to know that this would happen.

"I don't even know if she has heard what is going on. I have tried to call her, but I can't get through."

* Heath Ledger, the star of Brokeback Mountain, has hit out at the American Christian right after cinemas in Washington and Utah banned the movie.

"I heard a while ago that West Virginia was going to ban it. But that's a state that was lynching people only 25 years ago, so that's to be expected," he is quoted as saying on www.247gay.com.

"Personally, I don't think the movie is controversial, but I think maybe the Mormons in Utah do.

"[Banning it] is hilarious and very immature of a society," Ledger adds. "If two people are loving ... I think we should be more concerned if two people express anger in love, than love."

Meanwhile in the UK, reaction to the movie has not been so hostile.

But when Pandora went to see it at a trendy local picture house in London this week, the doorman was buttonholing a very pretty young blonde lesbian: "You do know this is a film about faggots, don't you?" he advised her.

* Peter Hobbs, shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award for his touching debut, The Short Day Dying, missed out on the prize. But he is still proud to have written a book that contains not a single comma. And belligerent about those who would aim to dictate our punctuation.

"Lynne Truss is wrong in many ways," he told me emphatically when we met this week at London's most literary new private members' club, 43 South Molton Street. "Language is about use, not rules. And it is perfectly possible to write well without sticking to any of the rules."

As a runner-up, the disappointed Hobbs will not be invited to the Whitbread prize dinner on 24 January. But he is already publishing a new book.

"It is called I Could Ride All Day in My Cool Blue Train and it is out from Faber in February," he says. "Oh, and it has plenty of commas."

* As two new contenders for the Lib Dem leadership declared themselves yesterday, Mark Oaten was undergoing a hasty image makeover.

Oaten, who confirmed earlier this week he is standing for the post, was spied in the upmarket Jermyn Street shirtmakers TM Lewin.

"Mark was being measured up for a rather fetching salmon-coloured shirt," I am informed. "He was also looking at ties. He clearly feels the need to smarten up and look a little more statesmanlike."

News of Oaten's shopping trip quickly reached the House of Commons, where one Labour MP said ungenerously: "Wouldn't a beard and sandals be a better vote-winner?"

Meanwhile, don't expect the latest leadership hopeful, Chris Huhne, to appear in a Cameronesque loosened tie. Huhne once carpeted a colleague for coming into the office wearing jeans. "You should always dress as if you are going to meet the Governor of the Bank of England," he barked.

* The love-hate relationship between two great pillars of British society is going through some love.

The restaurateur Terence Conran and the design guru Stephen Bayley are famous for their epic feud. Most recently, they rowed spectacularly about soup. But now my spies have seen them dining together at Conran's restaurant Sartoria - and they appeared to be getting on famously.

"We have a relationship of cheerful antagonism," explains Bayley. "I enjoy twisting his tail and he enjoys wagging his finger at me."

Their recent rapprochement was the idea of Waitrose Food Illustrated, which paired them up for an article. "The photographer said: 'Do you mind if I move the crostini?'" adds Bayley. "And Terence replied: 'I don't mind if you stick them up his bum.'"

pandora@independent.co.uk

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