Seal-loving MP calls for a cull of 'narcissistic' colleagues

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The Independent Online

It's been at least a month since the last decent slanging match between Old and New Labour, so thank goodness for the frayed temper of Nicholas Palmer, the Blairite MP for Broxtowe.

Palmer is in a tizzy after House of Commons authorities rejected his request to stage an art exhibition condemning the fur industry during the annual Canadian seal cull in March.

Instead, they allotted wall space to the parliamentary photography club - run by the amateur snapper and Labour traditionalist Austin Mitchell - whose members wish to show off their work to fellow MPs.

As a result, Palmer, above, has sent a furious letter to the Commons admin committee. Among other things, it claims they've neglected "an issue of public interest" to pander to the "unhealthy narcissism" of Mitchell, right, and his chums.

"I don't want to be pompous, but can I suggest that displays of our hobbies should have lower priority than policy issues," it reads. "We are a legislative body, not a school yearbook, and so to give up two weeks to displays of our artistic genius suggests unhealthy narcissism."

Despite the colourful attack, Mitchell is refusing to back down. "This is really his problem: I don't think any of our members are seals," he says.

* Those who, like Pandora, have been lucky enough to meet Kate Moss know that behind her glamorous façade speaks a "sarf" Londoner with all the vocal refinement of a Croydon fishwife.

Strange, then, to watch the skinny beauty's new TV advert for Virgin, in which she achieves something approaching cut-glass pronunciation.

According to at least one source who attended the filming, this required no little effort on her part.

"Kate had to say a total of seven words, and is on screen for 20 seconds," I'm told. "But it took a whole day. Getting her posh, transatlantic accent just right required an awful lot of takes."

A spokeswoman for Virgin admits the advert took some time to perfect, but denies that Moss, left, struggled to perfect her accent.

"I was actually on set," she says. "There were a number of takes, but that's because there were a number of different set-ups. Actually in our experience of working with celebrities, she was one of the best."

* You may think Sam Mendes is a big Hollywood cheese, but it isn't that hard to persuade him to take on a new film.

At a screening of his new Gulf War flick, Jarhead - based on a book by Anthony Swofford - the Oscar-winning director revealed how the producers had originally persuaded him to take on the project.

"They sent me the book in a marine rucksack as a ruse, so I'd read it. And when I opened the rucksack, sand fell out of it," he said.

"Then when I read the book's opening line, it was something like: 'I opened my marine rucksack and it was full of sand'."

Mendes, right, hadn't originally wanted to direct a war film; but this changed his mind. Who says cheap marketing gimmicks don't work?

* The MI5 chief, Eliza Manningham- Buller, has posted a picture of her office on the "secret" service's internet site.

Besides showing a lavish quantity of oak panelling, it also reveals that Britain's top spy has an eye for fine art.

"The picture she's chosen for pride of place is "The Coal Exchange", by Edward Bawden," says an expert in such matters. "She had the entire Government art collection to choose from, but it's a pretty good choice.

"Not only does Bawden have a solid artistic reputation, he's also a hero to British spooks. In the Second World War, he was interned in Casablanca on suspicion of being a spy, but never spilled the beans under interrogation."

I trust EM-B's modern-day employees are as conscientious.

* After a lifetime's globetrotting, Michael Palin looks set to become the proud patriarch of a travel-writing dynasty.

In his first such literary outing, Palin's son, Will - a curator of Sir John Soane's Museum - has been commissioned by Country Life to write about a luxury "air cruise" around Africa and Asia.

"Will's done a column for us before about his house, but this is his first piece of travel writing," says my man on the magazine. "He's got an impeccable pedigree so we obviously found this too good to miss.

"He's a jolly good writer actually, so we're not just employing him because he's Michael Palin's son. We did have to touch his copy up a little, but no more than for any other author."

Palin's debut appears today. It has (somewhat cheekily) been headlined: "Around the world in eight days".