Pandora: Suralan's seat stays empty at conference

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The Independent Online

While the Labour Party's promise of "special VIP" attendances at this week's conference might have been something of an exaggeration, organisers still managed to impress by convincing Lesley Garrett and Jo Brand to provide the entertainment for Tuesday's gala dinner in Brighton. There was one big name, though, who was conspicuous by his absence.

We are told that conference organisers were rather disappointed that Lord Sugar, who only a few months ago was named (with much fanfare) as the Government's "enterprise tsar" – decided at the last moment that it would be for the best for him to stay away.

The entrepreneur and star of The Apprentice, who had told Pandora in the run-up to the conference that he was still undecided about whether or not to attend, claims that in the event his "schedule and commitments did not allow" him to make an appearance.

Intriguingly, Suralan is refusing to say just what business was so important as to warrant skipping the biggest party political event of the year.

"In the run-up he wasn't sure but when it came to it he couldn't make it," explained a spokesman for the newly ennobled peer yesterday. "There's not much of an appetite to go into any explanations as to why, to be honest. It's a bit of a no comment scenario."

Something to hide, Suralan?

Harriet gives the news in briefs

There is no battle too small, it seems, in the war between the Government and News International. Following The Sun's decision to back David Cameron as the next Prime Minister, and Harriet Harman's subsequent lambasting of the paper's record on women's rights, how inevitable to find yesterday's Page Three graced by the honey-hued Harriet, aged 20, from Peckham, airing her views on employment.

Joked Harman in response: "She is so worried about jobs she has forgotten to put her clothes on." Not bad!

Ronan races into a new investment

Ronan Keating continues his transition from floppy-haired boy band heart-throb to cardigan-collecting country gent.

We're told that the Boyzone frontman is considering investing some of the cash earned from the band's ongoing reunion tour in a racehorse.

He was seen out and about at the Irish racing auction house Goffs this week, taking in the prestigious Orby Sale.

Apparently Keating is keen to follow in the footsteps of his Westlife protégé Nicky Byrne, who was seen investing in a mare at the sale last year.

We don't need no education, do we?

Whoops! Our eye is drawn to Labour's latest riveting party political broadcast. Approximately two minutes and 30 seconds into the clip comes the (not unimpressive) boast that "the educational maintenance allowance has helped 2.8 million teenagers". Except ... what's that? It isn't the educational maintenance allowance at all, but something else entirely. Something called the "eductional maintenance allowance" [sic]. Tsk. Go straight to the back of the class!

Cotton keeps her cool at art auction

Fearne Cotton has more than her fair share of experience dealing with unwanted advances (just don't mention Robbie Williams).

Good thing, too, considering the stage invasion she faced at this week's Macmillan De'Longhi cancer charity art auction in London.

We're told that artist Francesca Lowe stormed the stage mid-way through the presenter's attempt to flog a pair of Stella McCartney boots. "Yeah, it was completely unplanned," Cotton tells us. "But it was fine. She was great!"