Tony's plan for a new office is ruined by Gordon's parsimony

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The Independent Online

It's been a month since Tony Blair and Gordon Brown starred as "best friends" in Anthony Minghella's election broadcast, but there is news at last of the Chancellor's prudence upsetting the PM's plans again.

It's been a month since Tony Blair and Gordon Brown starred as "best friends" in Anthony Minghella's election broadcast, but there is news at last of the Chancellor's prudence upsetting the PM's plans again.

The Cabinet Office has been working on a secret blueprint for a refurbishment of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, to make the offices open-plan and allow an easier working relationship between the two.

The £200m project - code-named "Operation George" - was due to begin this summer. According to sources close to the Cabinet Office, however, the Chancellor has vetoed the plans.

"The whole thing was being presented as an 'American look', and that, as well as the enormous cost, worried the Treasury, who are already wary of a certain presidential style at Number 10," I'm told.

The Chancellor's office proposed instead that a small amount should be put aside each year but, after careful calculation, the CO realised that it would take 137 years for the costs to be met in full, essentially scuppering the plans.

A spokesman yesterday confirmed that discussions are under way, but said no consensus has been reached: "Officials are considering options, but no final decisions regarding if and when to proceed with the scheme have been made."

¿ Never out of the headlines for long, Naomi Campbell received a lot of coverage on the morning after her 35th birthday last week: the supermodel had arrived late for a charity auction in Cannes, because she didn't have the right outfit.

It's the kind of story that follows Campbell wherever she appears, but on this occasion it has rather sad repercussions for the charity concerned, the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

"Most people really couldn't hang around all day," says my fundraising mole. "A lot of the big bidders especially had to leave for other appointments, so if she'd arrived earlier, we might have raised more. But we can't go though life saying what if. The event raised some £50,000, but for a Cote d'Azur charity bash, that's not great."

She might have been forgiven more easily if her excuses had been good. But while one report explains that her clothing crisis was the result of a yacht robbery, another puts it down to a row with her stylist: plus ça change.

¿ Sir Terence Conran might be thought - as an entrepreneur of several decades' standing - to be above the usual "frying pans at dawn" chefs' spats. But trust Gordon Ramsay to bring out the best even in him.

In a recent interview, Ramsay remarked that he'd rather gatecrash his daughter's pre-school lunch than eat at one of Conran's establishments. So, having bumped into Sir T at the Chelsea Flower Show, Pandora is pleased to pass on the following riposte:

"I'm sure that man was told very early in his career that you get column inches by being rude about Terence Conran. He seems to think that if he's rude about me, then I'll say something rude back about one of his plate-fiddle restaurants. But I'm not going to bother."

One all.

¿ After Tony Blair "snubbed" the VE day celebrations and sent John Prescott to Moscow instead, the Imperial War Museum plans to strike back.

On 15 August, it is holding a grand VJ day party, with royals and old soldiers in attendance to mark the end of the war in Japan. They won't, however, be inviting any politicians.

"We've canvassed opinion among veterans and have decided we won't be inviting any MPs because, basically, they aren't very keen on them," says an organiser.

"When we had an event to mark VE day, there was a lot of dark muttering about politicians - particularly the Labour lot - so this time we're not inviting them and there's no chance they will overshadow the day's fun."

¿ The Groucho Club is growing elegantly into its maturity. The Soho media hangout has appointed an unlikely new official - a spiritual advisor, in the shape of a former Benedictine monk.

Father Shaun Middleton, who is now the parish priest of Notting Hill's trendy St Francis of Assisi church, has been given membership of the club in return for being on hand (from time to time) to discuss matters of faith with other regulars.

"Shaun baptised the manager's baby," I'm told. "And they hit it off and decided it would be a good idea to get him on board. He turns up in his priest's get-up and is a very popular figure. It's not at all unusual to see him sitting in the bar with beautiful out-of-work actresses draped all over him, adoringly discussing their eternal souls."

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