Tessa Jowell: patron of painters (and decorators)

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The Independent Online

* Tessa Jowell's tentacles, already fondling the worlds of culture, media and sport, will soon curl around another outpost: interior design.

Eight years after the then-Lord Chancellor, Derry Irving, choked taxpayers with a £60,000 bill for the wallpaper in his Westminster apartment, it appears that prime ministerial stooges' fondness for costly décor remains unabated.

Owing to the inquisitive efforts of sprightly Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather, Jowell's underling David Lammy has revealed that her office will be redecorated for the third time in four years this autumn. "The office of the Secretary of State has been decorated twice - in 2002, and 2005," Lammy replies to Teather's demands for Cabinet ministers to 'fess up their expenses at B&Q.

"It will be redecorated again in the coming months as part of the refurbishment of the department's Cockspur Street headquarters building."

A call to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirms that civil servants are browsing colour-sample cards.

"Her offices were refurbished in 2002 and we had to repaint last year because of damage caused by a faulty air conditioning unit," says a spokesman.

"We kept that to a minimum as we will be doing substantial redevelopment to the building this year."

Jowell's Lib Dem shadow, Don Foster, is predictably unimpressed."Tessa may be the minister for painting, but such generous patronage is more befitting of a Medici prince than a cost-cutting minister."

* Sunday's swanky Cartier Polo proved a non-starter for comely actress Siobhan Hewlett.

Running late for her lunch invite with the A-list nobs down at Windsor, her driver shot round a countryside corner a little too quickly, spilling coffee all over her white cocktail dress.

"I ran into this dodgy pub and tried to wash it out in the toilets," she tells me. "It was pretty soggy and disgusting."

The locals downed pints and rushed to the aide of a damsel nearing distress, tabling an offer of employment - albeit unwanted.

"When I came out these rough guys stopped me and asked if I was an escort girl.

"As you can imagine, I fled. We didn't pull over again."

She missed lunch. The dress is at the cleaners.

* The Duchess of Cornwall's canine entourage had to be escorted off the set of One Man and His Dog last week for misbehaviour, says our lady in the tweed jodhpurs.

Camilla a fan of the sheepdog trials show, brought Jack Russells Tosca and Rosie to watch at Bowood House in Wiltshire.

"Unfortunately the high-pitch whistles they use to herd the sheep sent them bonkers," I'm told.

"They barked the barn down and eventually had to be led from the grounds for holding up filming."

A spokeswoman at Clarence House explained that the rowdy royal pooches were merely "excited about seeing the other doggies".

The Duchess, in comparison, was a paragon of decorum.

* The crump of mortars and smell of cordite have for 14 months characterised seafront politics in Brighton and Hove as Labour MP Des Turner fights a bitter war of attrition with council homeless worker Jerry Aldous.

Last May, Turner, frustrated with Aldous' intransigence over accommodating a mentally ill constituent, called him "a little fucking useless pen-pusher".

Aldous began writing to parliamentary standards commissioners and the like, complaining that he found the MP's fragrant dialect a "profoundly disturbing and upsetting experience".

Now, on orders from the Commons' Standards and Privileges Committee, Turner has finally apologised.

"He has now sent the man a written apology and in hindsight wishes it hadn't occurred," an aide tells me.

* For those of us with minds dark enough to envisage a world in which Jeremy Clarkson grips the reins of power, some welcome news.

The campaign to persuade the petrolhead to stand for the Tories as London Mayor - against the "newt-keeping lunatic" Ken Livingstone (his words) - faces opposition from his friend and Top Gear colleague Richard Hammond.

"If he stood he would win it," Hammond tells me. "But can you bloody imagine it? He'd be scary. He would roar around London in a Lamborghini with a huge mayoral flagpole, shooting cyclists. I hope he doesn't go for it."

I suspect the same to be true of staff at City Hall, fretting over the possibility of spray-on jeans becoming uniform.