Viva Cuba! Why Scots MPs checked out of the Hilton

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The Independent Online

* Just after Castro's 1959 coup in Cuba, the pyjama-wearing Commie slept in a suite on the 23rd floor of the Havana Hilton. About 638 bungled US assassination attempts ended that.

The US has Cuba under embargo and Castro (if alive) is no longer welcomed on to the waxed wood floors of Hiltons across the world. The chain has announced a global ban on Cubans staying at any of its hotels.

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee, no less, has waded in and instigated a diplomatic affray by siding with the Latin-American comrades.

"We were going to Dundee as part of an inquiry," says Labour committee member Ian Davidson MP, "and were booked in at the Glasgow Hilton. But we've cancelled it, eight rooms for one night.

"It's not going to bankrupt the Hilton chain. But it is inappropriate for a committee in Parliament to give money to the Hilton Group. I hope this will spread." The group sponsors a Commons motion that the Hilton's ban on Cubans is "tantamount to a breach of UK sovereignty, as well as being an act of racial discrimination".

Says Dr Ian Gibson MP, a pro-Havana Scot: "It may be an idea to book the Cuban ambassador into every Hilton in the country and see what they do. They're behaving not only illegally and irrationally but in a pompous, silly fashion at the beck and call of the US government. There may be a boycott."

The Cuban Ambassador to London, His Excellency Rene Mujica Cantelar, pictured, was not available for comment last night. The Hilton Basingstoke could not find a room booking for him.

* Teddy Sheringham, the footballing equivalent of the Queen Mother (but with a less satiable appetite for young blondes) will once again lend his expertise to the cat-clawed beauty pageant that is Miss Great Britain.

Sheringham, spotted by Pandora in east London on Tuesday at the VCPoker.com poker tournament, has apparently been lined up to judge the contest for the second year running.

It's a surprising move, since Sheringham's appearance on last year's panel resulted in a sort of Watergate for the modelling world, when it emerged that he was dating model Danielle Lloyd when she was awarded the crown.

Stripping Lloyd (she of recent potty-mouthed Celebrity Big Brother fame) of her title, pageant chairman Robert De Keyser told Sheringham: "Like Caesar's wife, the judging of Miss Great Britain must be above suspicion."

* The diminutive actress Anna Friel has just finished shooting a film in Prague about Elizabeth Bathory, a vampiric 16th-century murderess said to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula.

"The [Slovak] director didn't speak a word of English, so all the direction was given by a translator, which is why filming took seven months," says Friel.

The actress is happy to argue the corner of a woman claimed to have slaughtered somewhere between 300 and 600 virgin maidens for their blood. "This film strives to disprove that legend, saying she was caught in a man's world," Friel insists.

"She would drink a little bit of blood because she had iron deficiency. But in those days that was just like taking an iron tablet."

* Back in August, Pandora rang the Yorkshire MP Colin Challen to relay a rumour that Gordon Brown's henchmen planned to massage Challen into a deep sleep, allowing the Chancellor's prodigy, Ed Balls, to take his seat. Challen told me he would "certainly" resist that.

Last week he decided to step down to spend time with the environment. He said: "I think Ed will make a good MP for the constituency."

Challen will chair a climate-change taskforce, working with Sir Nicholas Stern. Asked how he heard about Challen's appointment, Sir Nicholas replies: "I learned about it from the Chancellor, and I thought it would be a good idea." Fancy!

MPs greeted Challen's appearance in the Commons yesterday with calls of: "My Lord! My Lord!" He tells me: "There's no post, no payment, no offer of a job. I'm following an initiative of my own, looking into the economics of tackling climate change. I have not been offered anything, apart from co-operation. He [Brown] thought it was a good idea, that's why he passed it to Nick Stern." Good luck to him.

* Just what proportion of the rations fed to Our Boys in Iraq originates in the UK, huh? That's the question put to the MoD by its former incumbent, the Labour MP John Spellar, anyway - specifically how much poultry, gammon and bacon supplied to our troops is bought from British farms.

"Sod all", is the answer. Or, as the Right Honourable Adam Ingram, Armed Forces Minister, puts it: "Since the beginning of the current contract in October 2006, 2 per cent of poultry by value has been bought from British farms. All gammon and bacon products are imported." Says Spellar: "Can you imagine the French behaving like this and importing food for its army?"

pandora@independent.co.uk

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