Yeo's public relations disaster is averted at the last minute

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* It's been a (little) while since anyone accused the Conservatives of hubris, but the party's Environment and Transport spokesman, Tim Yeo, narrowly avoided a PR disaster when he recently decided to pose in front of the Whitehall department he hopes to inherit.

* It's been a (little) while since anyone accused the Conservatives of hubris, but the party's Environment and Transport spokesman, Tim Yeo, narrowly avoided a PR disaster when he recently decided to pose in front of the Whitehall department he hopes to inherit.

Anxious to prove just how confident he is of a Tory triumph at the polls, Yeo was planning an official press photo-call with the rest of his shadow team outside their "future" government offices.

It was at this point, Pandora hears, that the amiable shadow minister - who last week publicly declared that his party had "rejoined the human race" - found himself up against the PR savvy of one Michael Howard, who did not share his enthusiasm for the publicity shots.

"It's normal for civil servants to meet shadow ministers before a general election, as there's a chance they could soon be working together," explains a shadow cabinet source. "But Tim thought it would be a good idea to take this further, and prove he and his team were genuinely preparing for government, by posing for photos outside the building.

"Michael made it quite clear what he thought of the idea, and was pretty scathing. Tim was rather cheesed off, but perhaps not everyone shares his optimism for the coming months."

When asked about Yeo's ill-fated publicity bid yesterday, a party spokesman declined to return my calls.

* BEHIND HIS shy exterior, David Hockney is learning a thing or two from the self-publicising young Turks of the British art world.

Last night, the pop artist launched an exhibition that he is curating of the photographs taken by his old friend Robert Mapplethorpe. The photographer, who died in 1989, is best known for his homoerotic pictures. But Hockney has chosen a striking portrait of himself as a centrepiece of the exhibition.

"It's an iconic picture but this is really the sort of self-referential set-up you'd expect to see from the high-living Brit artists," says one observer.

The exhibition's organisers, however, claim there is nothing strange in his decision.

"David's very much part of the exhibition," explains a spokesman for the Alison Jacques Gallery. "Although there are lots of Mapplethorpe's erotic snaps, there will also be photos of his friends, a lot of whom were David's mates too."

* THE SECURITY forces, which look after our government, have pulled up their socks after all last year's scares.

The animal-rights charity Peta sent the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon a belated Christmas present this week. The parcel contained a teddy bear, to remind him of their campaign to replace the army's bearskin hats with faux-fur headgear. But when it arrived at the ministry, the package was impounded.

"They called to ask us whether it was a bomb," says a spokesman. "When we explained, they went away to investigate and rang later to say their sensors were set off by the beans that the manufacturers had put in the bear's bottom."

Pandora can assure readers that the toy was not harmed, and has now been delivered to Mr Hoon.

* UNIVERSAL CONDEMNATION has greeted Prince Harry's decision to go to a party wearing a Nazi fancy-dress costume. Well - almost universal.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary and former Marxist, was remarkably muted in his disapproval when interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday.

"He has apologised," muttered one of the Cabinet's most outspoken members. "And I think we should leave the matter there."

How different from Clarke's behaviour just two months ago when, as Education Secretary, he attacked Harry's father Prince Charles, for his ill-judged comments on the education system.

"It seems high office has mellowed our Home Secretary," sighs a colleague.

* Interesting to note that the English rugby international Mike Tindall is being linked to a move to the Premiership side Gloucester.

With up to four top clubs said to be hoping to secure the burly star's services (after it was revealed he was at odds over a new contract with his current club Bath), Pandora wonders whether his choice might be swayed by something as mundane as geography.

For the Gloucester ground is a mere 30 minutes' drive from Gatcombe Park, the grand family home of Princess Anne and her daughter, Zara Phillips, who is currently stepping out with Mr Tindall. Convenient all round.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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