Shut the door on grace and favour homes, say MPs

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The Independent Online

If there's a question that's been raised more often than John Prescott's chances of survival over the past few weeks, it's what will become of his former home, Dorneywood.

Recent reports have claimed that ministers are now reluctant to take up any offers on that - or indeed any other - grace and favour home for fear that, après Prezza, the properties have become a political embarrassment.

Which has led to a growing number of Labour MPs demanding that Dorneywood, and some of the ministers' homes, be made open to the public.

One such MP is said to be Angela Eagle - a member of the committee of MPs which meets the Prime Minister every week - who is thought to have stirred up strong support for the idea inside the party.

"The whole principle of grace and favour homes for cabinet ministers or others ought to be reviewed," says one senior Labour MP. "If you are already given an allowance for living in London and you also have a grace and favour home, that is something I think most Labour MPs find objectionable."

At the moment, the garden at Dorneywood is owned by the National Trust, but is only open to the public for four afternoons in the year, and even then only on written application.

If anyone feels like taking a look, the next two dates it is open are the 12th and 29th of this month.

Anderson's refreshing bout of honesty

Gillian Anderson has served up a refreshingly honest slice of self-analysis not often associated with her fellow Hollywood stars.

Anderson recently split from her husband of just 18 months, the filmmaker Julian Ozanne, but has decided not to spin out the usual "pressures of work commitments" baloney.

Instead, in the latest issue of Psychologies magazine, she confesses that the break-up might have had something to do with her being a bit of a nightmare to live with.

"I'm incredibly strong-willed and like to do things my way," she says.

"If I'm 100 per cent honest, part of me thinks my way is always the right way.

"And when you're trying to cohabit with someone or to parent a child, those aren't always good qualities. There needs to be more space and time, and a willingness to hear other people's ideas and do things their way.

"I have to work on that."

Tate sorry for sketching ban

There is a happy ending behind the recent spot of bother over Chris Ofili's installation The Upper Room at Tate Modern, right

Two weeks ago, Pandora reported that visiting pupils from St Marylebone girls' school were ordered by officials not to sketch the colourful work and told to ditch their notepads. The explanation given at the time was that it was for "reasons of conservation".

Teachers at the school were understandably miffed. Thankfully, the whole matter has now been cleared up.

"The museum has sent a very apologetic letter to the school and has explained that the whole thing was a complete misunderstanding," I'm told.

"Very sweetly, Chris Ofili has also sent the class some signed copies of his book."

Comic books

Fans of the recently departed comedian Linda Smith will be delighted to hear that not one but two books charting her life are in the offing.

Both items, to arrive over the next year, are being compiled by her long-term partner, Warren Lakin. The first is an anthology of her career's best material, while the second will be a detailed biography.

"The biography won't be finished until next autumn, but the anthology is ready to go out in November," says the books' editor, Nick Davis.

"Linda's comic friends have helped put it together. Jo Brand has done the foreword, and there are contributions from Sandi Toksvig, Paul Merton, Stephen Fry and Mark Steel. It looks fantastic."

Blair Babe remembers her left-wing roots

After being brutally ousted in last year's general election, former Blair Babe Lorna Fitzsimmons is doing everything she can to ease her way back on to the political ladder. Her campaign began with the launch of an e-mail, a copy of which has made its way into Pandora's inbox, canvassing Labour members to support her bid for a place on the National Executive Committee.

"My grandmother, her sister Mary, and Mary's husband all taught me about politics and class growing up, the importance of solidarity and TUs," it reads. "It's my biggest disappointment that I didn't spend more time with them when I was a young student listening to what they had to say."

Some members aren't convinced. "If that's Lorna's attempt to curry favour with the left, it won't work," reckons one. "We all remember her as a die-hard Blairite."