Vandal-proof Thatcher returns, minus a handbag

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The Independent Online

* Two years after her statue was beheaded with a Slazenger cricket bat, Baroness Thatcher is coming back to the House of Commons - but this time she'll be without her trademark handbag.

A half-size plaster "mock-up" of the replacement statue was brought to Westminster this week, to check that it will "work" in its future surroundings.

Although the fleeting visit took place in conditions of the utmost secrecy, and the installation was there for barely an hour, witnesses report that Antony Dufort's design is likely to spark a heated debate.

Not only will the £50,000 sculpture be made out of bronze, in order to prevent any repeat act of left-wing vandalism, it's also expected to portray the Iron Lady, above, in full flow at the despatch box.

There is apparently no room for a handbag; instead, the one-and-a-half scale version of the former PM will be jabbing her finger at an opponent across the floor of the House.

None of the MPs who commissioned the statue is yet allowed to comment on the details of its design. However, Labour's Derek Wyatt said yesterday that it would be "very sensitively done".

"I hope she [Thatcher] likes it," he said. "We've seen a maquette; the final version should be ready later this year."

Other Labour MPs aren't sure, though. "I spent 18 years under the Conservatives hoping never to see that woman again," says backbencher Stephen Pound. "The last thing I want to do is pass her basilisk stare on my way to work."

* Delighted to report that Saffron Burrows has patched things up with her girlfriend Fiona Shaw, from whom she (reportedly) split a couple of months back.

Before Christmas, it was reported that the comely actresses, whose affair has intrigued the chattering classes for almost three years, had gone their separate ways.

However, the organisers of Tuesday's Whitbread Book Awards were informed that Burrows had invited Shaw to attend as her official "date".

Although they dodged the paparazzi by turning up separately, the couple shared a table with Lynne Truss, Fay Weldon, and their respective partners.

After the lights went down for the awards ceremony, things got cosier still, when the svelte Burrows joined Shaw on her chair.

"It was sweet to see Saffron and Fiona together as a couple," reports one who dined with them.

"They've never been comfortable having their private lives aired in public, but the lesbian community owes both of them an enormous debt."

* News that Abi Titmuss is making her West End debut prompted much sniffy talk of "dumbing down" in theatreland.

The critics will be eating their words now, though. For I gather that no less a style guru than John Galliano has agreed to make her costume.

Christian Dior, for whom Galliano earns a crust, will be providing Titmuss with a 1950s-style costume for the Arthur Miller play Two-Way Mirror.

"John is related to me through my mother's family," says the director, Mike Miller. "He's sent over two different vintage outfits for Abi to try, and if they don't fit then he'll do one up for her from scratch."

Titmuss, a former drama student, is currently undergoing voice training for the play, which opens in March. Full rehearsals commence next week.

"She's picking things up very quickly," adds Miller.

"She's an intelligent lady, and very classy, as this goes to show."

* It never rains but it pours for Tribune, the cash-strapped Labour newspaper that launched George Orwell's career.

On Monday, I revealed that the left-wing weekly was facing bankruptcy after losing a libel case against the Tory politician Simon Milton.

Now John Haylett, the editor of the Morning Star, has taken offence at a Tribune piece saying he's patronised a Soho branch of Ann Summers.

Nothing could be further from the truth, so Haylett has received both an 'umble apology, and £150 compensation, donated to the Greater London Pensioners Association.

"Being sued by a Tory is one thing," notes a Tribune source. "But we never thought a leftie would take us to the cleaners."

* Hilary Benn's efforts to feed the world have suffered an unlikely setback.

His Department for International Development has become the latest victim of the petty crime wave sweeping Britain.

According to figures unearthed by the Monmouth MP David Davies, a spate of thefts was reported at Benn's office in the past 12 months.

As well as several bicycles and laptop computers, a written answer reveals that "four lamp-posts" were pinched from there in 2005.

"We realise this sounds a bit odd," says a spokesman. "They were actually taken from our office in East Kilbride, where building work was taking place.

"Fortunately, we've got CCTV, and two suspects were caught and charged with the theft. The lamp-posts, worth £2,000, are sadly still missing. But with a bit of luck, they'll turn up soon." Here's hoping!

pandora@independent.co.uk

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