Pretty shoddy, Portillo

I would not recommend Michael Portillo to loiter too close to the Lords at present. One of their number rang me in a high twitch yesterday to say that the Portillo name is mud in that chamber.

The problem? It seems that in his entire political career Portillo has only ever put two important Bills through Parliament: the first being last year's Jobseekers' Bill; the second is the Reserve Forces Bill, which is just going through.But in both cases the original Bill has been so badly drafted that it has had to be recommitted - that is, redrafted and re-presented to a committee before making it through to the Lords for debate.

"It is a pretty shoddy performance," says my disgruntled noble lord, "and all parties here are very fed up with him."

But isn't this a tad unfair? Surely, it's up to the parliamentary draftsmen to sort out the fine print. "It is not," an equally angry whip tells me. "The responsibility to get these Bills right before they enter Parliament belongs to the minister. The draftsman just follows his or her instructions."

Enemies in the Admiralty, enemies in the Lords ... 1996 has not begun well for the darling of the right.

The Prince and the what?

The Prince and the showgirl? Puh-leese. It's the prince and the actress. I'm glad to find Patricia Kirkwood upholding the traditions of actorly hauteur.

In a letter to the Daily Express this week, she scotches the myth that has resurfaced in the press recently of a relationship between herself and Prince Philip. It is a myth that has dogged and distressed her for 10 years, she says. And she adds, giving vent to 10 years of irritation: "Incidentally, I was never a 'showgirl' and neither was I a 'dancer'. I was an actress and singer, as described in two volumes of Who's Who in the Theatre."

Quite right. It just doesn't sound quite so catchy in a headline.

Ally behind the scenes

I am much moved by a stirring article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. In it the journalist Barbara Amiel, wife of the Telegraph's proprietor, Conrad Black, makes a passionate case for the Royal Opera House in the light of recent criticism.

"It is home to the finest ballet company in the world," she reminds us, "and one of the finest opera ensembles as well." The average price of an opera ticket may be pounds 67, but, she argues, that can't begin to cover the cost of production.

In lyrical vein she claims that the dancers Darcey Bussell and Sylvie Guillem "take us into a world of such incandescent beauty that even spring flowers cannot match their radiance".

She then moves on to a more metaphysical level altogether. "Giving funds to opera when you don't like it is akin to giving to a charity for an illness that one will never get. My age and childlessness does not stop me from contributing to childhood leukaemia ... "

It can only have been pressure of space, I'm sure, that caused both Ms Amiel and the Daily Telegraph to neglect to mention that the author is a member of the Royal Opera House Trust. According to the Royal Opera House's literature, the trust was "established to support the work of the Royal Opera House and its three companies ... The Royal Opera House is extremely grateful for this support."

MPs drink to the Czechs

The arduous workload of our underpaid MPs: part II. On Wednesday night the honourable gentlemen and a few ladies packed the large Jubilee Room at the Commons for the fine and upstanding cause of supporting Czech Heritage. The particular aspect of Czech Heritage turned out to be that country's beer heritage. The free and lengthy beer-tasting session (sorry, heritage support meeting) went on well into the evening.

Welsh Water's dry humour

Welsh Water was in bullish mood yesterday when it officially took over South Wales Electricity in a pounds 853m deal. The water company's chief executive, Graham Hawker, went on BBC Wales's morning radio bulletin to announce that the new company so formed would be called Hyder, the Welsh word for confidence. In the town of Brecon, home to Welsh Water's head office, the townsfolk would have been glowing with confidence and pride over their morning tea, were it not that the latest in a series of leaks had resulted in all the water being turned off.

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