Pandora: A twist in the tale of Hazel's big cheque

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The Independent Online

Time for the latest chapter in the enduring saga of Hazel Blears and her peculiar relationship with HM Revenues and Customs, as it emerges that Ms Blears' promise to add £13,332 to the nation's coffers may be rather more complicated that it first seemed.

When announced, the gesture – intended to compensate for the tax that the Communities Secretary had swerved – was accompanied by considerable fanfare (not to mention a hefty dose of benevolent cheque-waving).

Now, however, it has emerged that the money may not end up at HMRC at all, but instead go towards – of all things – The Sun's Help For Heroes fund.

The complication has arisen from the fact that the money was not, strictly speaking, owed by Blears, but instead was what she would have paid had she been eligible for capital gains tax. As such, there's a risk that once cashed, the cheque may be counted as a credit on her account.

"The point wasn't that she owed the money to HMRC, it was how it looked and she wanted to show that she recognised that," explained one spokesman yesterday.

"[But] she is also very clear that she doesn't want that to go towards payments due in future. She doesn't want it to be treated as a credit. If that can't be done then she will donate the money to charity... to The Sun's Help for Heroes campaign. But we're not at that stage yet."

Branagh casts his rising star

Has Kenneth Branagh found a new protégé? Tom Hiddleston starred alongside Branagh in the TV series Wallander, and again in Michael Grandage's production of Ivanov. Now we hear that Branagh has cast Tom as the villain in Thor, his forthcoming blockbuster based on the Marvel comic book. He'll play Loki, a black-magic-practising superbeing. Something tells us this might be a face to watch.

A 10-year-old toast to the Speaker

Never known for their reticent qualities, Westminster's inhabitants have been positively overflowing with opportunistic ideas since Michael Martin's resignation as Speaker on Tuesday.

Without doubt, Pandora's favourite effort so far comes from those crafty characters who managed to scoop up every remaining bottle of "Speaker Martin's 10-year-old Malt Whisky" from the trusty House of Commons gift shop.

They can now be found for sale on eBay, fetching more than £100 each.

The only remaining question is: can they be claimed on expenses?

Sorry lads, Alison's only got eyes for her trumpet

Goodness. Less than a week after she picked up Best Female Artist at the Classical Brits, Alison Balsom has already been inundated with offers of photo-shoots from a selection of lads' mags.

But the classical trumpeter – whose short-skirted appearance on the red carpet aroused considerable red-top interest – claims that she won't be taking up any of the opportunities. "It's nice to be appreciated for one's looks, and while it's flattering to be asked, I want to be known for my music, not for posing in a lads' mag," Alison tells Pandora.

"So however much the fee, my answer will always be the same: a polite 'Thanks, but no thanks'."

Not-so-friendly match: Tories score an own goal

Great disappointment following the last-minute cancellation of today's football match between Tory and Lib Dem staffers. Both sides have been limbering up for weeks for the contest, but only 48 hours before kick-off the Tories decided to cancel. "Apparently they couldn't get a team together," says my source. Needless to say, the Lib Dems aren't taking it lightly. "Not like the Tories to make promises they can't keep, is it?" smarts one. Ref!