Pandora: Benn suspicious about tales of 'bully' Brown

With spinning supremo Max Clifford newly recruited to represent Christine Pratt, expect the now-notorious National Bullying Helpline boss to start fighting her corner soon.

In the meantime, the Government PR machine is firing both barrels to quash her (and Andrew Rawnsley's) suggestions of prime ministerial strong-arm tactics.

One person who claims not to recognise claims of bullying behaviour from Gordon Brown is Labour veteran Tony Benn – someone who is not, it should be noted, averse to criticising the party when the time is right.

"I think the whole story is politically motivated," reflected Benn at yesterday's Oldie literary lunch. "I'm very suspicious of it. I've met Gordon Brown on a number of occasions and he's always very friendly. There is constant pressure – I would be more surprised if he didn't get angry sometimes. I think the election is still very much in the balance."

No doubt Number 10 will be grateful of the defence – though, before they get too excited, it's not an entirely clean bill of health from Benn.

"Something I have become very worried about is the prospect of war in Iran. If there is one, I will definitely be protesting."

Speakers steer clear of drama

Michael Martin had the dubious honour of dramatic representation last night, in the BBC4 drama On Expenses (friends have been heard muttering concerns of a "stitch up" from the programme, which chronicled Heather Brooke's attempts to uncover details of MPs' expenses). The rotund former speaker declined to return Pandora's calls enquiring as to whether he would be watching. His successor, John Bercow, definitely wasn't: he was to be found in his chair. A spokesman claimed he wouldn't be recording it. Pity!

Corden keen to push charity credentials

James Corden wants to clear something up. His much-publicised new girlfriend, Julia Carey, is just like you and me.

"Everyone keeps saying she's a TV producer!" exclaims the indignant comedian. "She is a PR for Save the Children – not a producer. She's from outside the industry. That's what I like about her. She doesn't even like the industry very much. Tonight we're going straight home to bed." No need to boast.

MPs revel in their musical youth

It's back! The line up for Parliament's variety show in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support has been announced. Delightfully, it will feature seasoned performer Stephen Pound, who was forced to cancel his mooted hotpant-clad Cheeky Girl impersonation last year owing to a constituency engagement. This time he will team up with Commons wallflower Lembit Opik and Nigel Evans for a rendition of "The Laughing Policeman". Fellow performers, the House's resident rockband MP4, are said to be eyeing the competition.

Doth the lady protest too much?

"I still get really nervous when I have to go down the catwalk," complained the statuesque model Erin O'Connor at Evian's Baftas after-party. "The other day at Fashion for Relief I was sandwiched right in between Geri Halliwell and Ronnie Corbett."

It is not, dare we say, the most daunting of runway line-ups for a Vogue cover girl and London Fashion Week veteran. Perhaps she was being rather too modest? "But they are both such huge characters – even if they are, erm... small." Indeed.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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