Pandora: Now 'bully' Balls sings a different tune

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The Independent Online

News that Ed Balls has teamed up with the award-winning hip hop stars N-Dubz may, on first impressions at least, raise a few eyebrows.

Yet I'm assured it's the politician's decision to use this newly forged alliance to "beat bullying" that's been met with rather more chuckles in the corridors of Westminster.

"When I was at school, we all knew that bullying happened, but it was not really talked about," explained the Secretary of State during the launch of his pals' new song "RU Cyber Safe". He went on: "Things are so different today – and so much better. Bullying is talked about openly."

Indeed it is, Ed. Only last month, Labour colleague and chairman of the Commons children's committee, Barry Sheerman, caused a stir when he described Balls himself as, funnily enough, "a bit of a bully". Sheerman's comments came after Gordon Brown's long-serving henchman was accused of ignoring the advice of committee members by appointing Maggie Atkinson as England's next children's commissioner.

Naturally, Ed was keen to tackle this stain on his character head on, later pointing out: "Sometimes in my job I have to take tough decisions."

Not that his apparent "form" in this regard ends there. Back in 2007, following what was billed "unprecedented access", biographer Anthony Seldon claimed an irate Balls had made Tony Blair feel "like an abused and bullied wife".

Russians serve up welcome treat

Innocent Northern country boy that I was, the badly dubbed world of Ferrero Rocher once seemed like an impossible dream. The memorable ads had their detractors, but I for one always hoped there really was an international embassy out there proudly presenting its VIP guests with gold-wrapped chocolates on a silver tray. Well today, readers, I finally feel vindicated. News reaches me that, during a bash at the Russian Embassy in London this week, the said brand made a surprise, but welcome, appearance.

Sir Michael lined up for long goodbye

While I would be clearly foolish to cast aspersions on the integrity of such an esteemed Cockney treasure as Sir Michael Caine, I also can't help taking his talk of retirement with a pinch of salt.

The veteran actor, who can currently be seen on the big screen in Harry Brown, has been suggesting this could be his last film role. "I haven't got another script lined up," he worryingly declared.

"If one doesn't come along I will be retired without any announcement, and, like an old soldier which I am, will just fade away."

Suitably alarmed by the news, I consulted the normally reliable Internet Movie Database, which curiously suggests Sir Michael already has no fewer than three more films in the pipeline.

Ken's too chilled for today's Tories

What with those Europhile leanings barely hidden in his Hush Puppies, Kenneth Clarke's return to the Tory frontbench was never going to be without its occasional tensions. I now hear there are some grumblings in the ranks about the jazz-loving former Chancellor's "more relaxed approach" behind the scenes compared to Shadow Cabinet colleagues. While I obviously can't speak for Ken, I suspect he feels his uptight critics would benefit from quickly lighting a Hamlet and cranking up the Miles Davis.

Myleene anxious not to offend

Ever since the antics of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, BBC bosses have been more anxious than ever to tread a cautious line. Fresh evidence of frayed nerves over at the Corporation came during Stereo-phonics star Kelly Jones's appearance on the National Lottery show late on Wednesday night, when his quip about the band enjoying a "sexual explosion" prompted flustered host Myleene Klass to issue a live apology. "The producer thought it was a good idea in case anyone was offended," insists a spokeswoman.