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Bugged by gremlins

PANDORA is starting to doubt if we have a snowball's chance in hell of defeating the millennium bug. This is my conclusion after the shocking episode that took place in Whitehall yesterday. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Dr David Clark, was escorting six hacks in the private lift to see Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary. Their mission was to hear the latest plans for dealing with the bug. Unfortunately, the lift broke down. It took 30 minutes to sort out this extremely "low-tech" problem and free the passengers, at which point several of the survivors had been driven mad by the pointless wittering of the Guardian journalist David Hencke.

Bunker mentality

DOES 31 March have a special curse for political journalists? At the same time as yesterday's Whitehall lift emergency, in another hidden corner of the Government's vast underbelly - the bunker in the basement under 10 Downing Street - two television hacks erupted into a verbal firestorm as they waited for the usual 11am briefing from Alastair Campbell. John Sergeant, the BBC's chief political correspondent, made a scathing comment to Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, about the Murdoch station's bias. Boulton retorted that he made no secret of his loyal support for the man who paid his wages. The BBC hack chided him about China. This provoked Boulton into saying that he believed the BBC was more of a threat to world democracy than Sky TV. If only Pandora had been there! Any half- reasonable, impartial observer can see that both the BBC and Sky TV are sinister threats to world democracy. The truth is that only Carlton TV offers mankind any hope for the future. (Dear Michael Green, If you'd like to send a cheque to Pandora it's c/o The Box, The Independent, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.)

Mo's shining white knight

AS IF the Northern Irish negotiations weren't tough enough, Mo Mowlam was having to tolerate a constant barrage of obnoxious sexist remarks from several of the Unionist delegates. Finally, a white knight arrived in the form of hard man Billy Hutchinson (pictured), spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party. He confronted several of the biggest loudmouths in the gents at Stormont and told them - in no uncertain terms - to ease up on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The verbal abuse stopped immediately.

Taskforce mania

HOW many new "taskforces" has the Prime Minister launched since taking office last spring? According to a Downing Street spokesman, 50 Taskforces had been created by the end of February. Last week, Tony Blair met with leaders of British charities and voluntary organisations. The result? Yet another taskforce: this one is called The Prime Minister's Taskforce on the Active Community. Although Downing Street announced that the taskforce's goal was "to bring about lasting change in the relationship between the individual and the community" by providing "a focus" that links public, private and voluntary "sectors", the most striking fact about this dynamic new working group is its total lack of focus. It has no chairman and, as yet, no team members. Indeed the press release invites "suggestions as to taskforce membership". It also says that it is considering establishing a network of "ambassadors" linked to the taskforce and invites suggestions for who these might be. Rather than submit suggestions for membership or "ambassadors", Pandora is proposing the launch of a Prime Minister's Taskforce on Taskforces to bring this extraordinary epidemic of amorphous committees under control.

Want to earn a bernie?

WHAT'S a bernie? A friend of Pandora's has discovered this invigorating new addition to English slang. While speaking with a representative of Guardian Insurance, which is sponsoring an information effort in conjunction with the PGA European Golf Tour, he was told that Guardian Insurance sponsorship was worth "a few bernies". In fact, a "bernie" is slang for pounds 1m and derives from Bernie Ecclestone's pounds 1m contribution to the Labour Party. Let's hope it makes him immortal.

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