Pandora: To Hull and back - a new favourite amid the carnage

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The Independent Online

Following an outbreak of North Korean-style politics in the battle to replace John Prescott as Labour MP in Hull East, the word is that a frontrunner has emerged, albeit by a narrow margin. The man tipped to fill Prezza's ample buttock indentations in the north is George McNamara a children's charity worker.

To recap: Prezza's son, the public relations adviser David Prescott, has been "stitched up" by the unions and is not favoured by Downing Street. Hull councillor Steven Bayes has been arrested for gross indecency and suspended by the Labour Party. And as for the previous frontrunner, Gordon Brown's one-time photocopying boy Chris Leslie: he has the backing of No 10, the GMB and Unison, but is proving "a hard sell on the doorstep" partly because of his involvement in Harriet Harman's undeclared donations blunder.

McNamara, 33, has been outspoken against the Government in his work for the charity NCH. He has also worked for the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly and for his uncle Kevin, a former Hull MP. McNamara has respectable red credentials and is backed by the unions T&G, Amicus and CWU.

A source there said, perhaps cattily: "It would be good to have an MP with a genuine Labour background rather than someone parachuted in because they are a friend of the leadership."

Thirty-seven candidates have thrown their cloth caps in the ring. The race is tight and has the potential for ugliness, with Bayes refusing to stay away. The result will be on 16 March. Carry on!

* With all the recent talk about organ donations, might Chris Rock be willing to offer his publicists a sense of humour transplant?

The Brooklyn-born comic, 42, here for a hyped sell-out residence, was scheduled for a big "phoner" interview with a London newspaper. Come the hour (2pm), Rock's press officer explained that the funnyman had "gone to the cinema". At 6pm, Rock was "having a nap". When Rock finally rang in the evening, the humble hack had given up and was on a Tube train. They got his answer phone.

A sweet cock-up?

No, an inducement for blind rage, name-calling and shrill accusations of unprofessionalism.

Rock supports the US presidential candidate Barack Obama. "Unbelievable!" Rock says. "Sometimes I don't think he realises he's the black candidate. He thinks he can win fair and square!"

* Craned vertebrae in Scott's restaurant, Mayfair, on Thursday night, for Leslie Ash, who has been awarded £5m after contracting a potentially fatal "superbug" while in the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in 2004.

The actress had gone to A&E with two broken ribs and a punctured lung following an "energetic sex session" with her broken-nosed former footballer husband, Lee Chapman. Diners' sympathy extended to seeing whether or not the couple might feel a generous twitch when it came to settling more than their own tab for the evening. Perhaps send around some champagne, at least?

"They were celebrating and having a great time," said a rubber neck, probably spilling soup on his lap. "I was hoping she'd look over my way – as was most of the room, by the look of it. People were eating their desserts very slowly and sipping their wine. But no such luck."

* The lines have closed. Readers rose dishonourably to the challenge of providing a caption for Friday's photograph of Sir Elton John holding a South African baby, in an HIV/Aids clinic he supports.

Chris Organ, who works in Piccadilly, suggests: "Damn. The kid's got superglue in his hair."

Peterborough's Steve Dodding receives a judges' medal for effort for his many entries: "Who is this bloke? I've told you, I only do politicians." And: "If you don't mind playing central defence for Watford, I can get you a work permit."

The victor is Frankie Godding, who wins a fizzy bottle from Pandora's cellar and a £50 donation to the Elton John Aids Foundation. "Happy Birthday Madonna, with love from Elton and David. PS We've kept the receipt."

Oi! Don't laugh!

* Gordon Brown protégé and Everton junkie Andy Burnham, who invaded the pitch during a 1984 FA Cup semi-final, will meet Ukrainian government officials this week. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury hopes to convince the former Soviet state that his small northern constituency, Leigh, would make a perfect training camp for its Olympics team in 2012.

The town, population 44,444, has many virtues, its new £83m sports village being only one of them. Handy for the M6 and, er, Manchester's ship canals, Leigh is famed for its rugby league team, tractors, former collieries and delectable crumbly Lancashire cheese, ideal for toasting and beloved of the marooned Treasure Island pirate Ben Gunn. The Ukrainians are partial to a lump of cottage cheese in their varenyky ("boiled thing"), a dish consisting of dumplings of potatoes, sauerkraut, cabbage and cherries. A stinky match made in heaven?

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