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Not with Tories, not even for pounds 5m

REMEMBER all of those scare stories from Conservative Central Office in the run-up to the county council elections about the dangers of Lib-Lab pacts keeping the Tories out of power?

Labour representatives on Hampshire County Council remember them well, and were therefore somewhat surprised the other day to be offered a power-sharing deal - by the Conservatives, who lost 26 of their 55 seats in the 6 May election. Bill Wheeler, leader of the Labour group, said the Tories were offering pounds 5m for Labour spending plans - and half the committee chairmanships - in return for Labour councillors keeping them in power.

'I was gobsmacked,' Wheeler said yesterday. None of the 24 Labour councillors favoured the deal, offered before last week's council AGM. The Liberal Democrat group leader, Mike Hancock, said the offer was a farce, 'a seedy and grubby attempt to cling to power'.

The Conservative deputy group leader, Peter Andreae, said there was nothing strange in offering to share power with Labour. 'What we offered them was better than what they have ended up with from the Liberal Democrats.'

Labour would have been given a say in spending any surplus cash in the council budget, he added, and no extra burden would have been placed on council taxpayers. Andreae said the council leader, Freddie Emery-Wallis, had held the post for 17 years. 'If he'd been able to carry on, with Labour support, that would have been a desirable outcome, and worth a few concessions.'

THE MOST notable news story out of Tibet yesterday, according to Peking's official New China News Agency, was a report headlined 'Long sunny days give Lhasa fecund flowers'. No mention of rioting anti-Chinese protesters or nasty sun-obscuring tear-gas.

Top rabbis mugged

A PROMOTIONAL offer by New Moon, the alternative Jewish magazine, offering readers drinking mugs bearing the face of their favourite rabbi, has caused a certain frisson in the Jewish community.

The magazine's readers were offered the choice of six mugs, bearing the faces of Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi; Lord Jakobovits, the former Chief Rabbi; the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the leader of the world's most extreme Hassidic sect; Julia Neuberger, the former SDP candidate and media pundit; Jackie Mason, the rabbi turned stand-up comedian; and Lionel Blue, the poet, cook and writer.

Now the magazine's forthcoming issue announces which mugs have proved most popular with readers during the past year. Despite its relatively youthful readership, Matthew Kalman, the editor, reveals that Sacks comes top of the poll with 585, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe a close second with 555. Blue trundles in third with 515, followed by Neuberger with 499, Jakobovits with 496, and Mason with 491. 'It's just a question of who they want to wake up to each morning,' says Kalman. One key contributory factor to the Sacks win is thought to be the fact that his mother ordered no less than 10 of his mugs.

AND now a proverb from a 1913 Serbian grammar book: 'What is taken by force is cursed.'

Hugh must be joking

ANN Widdecombe, the social security minister, has taken a fair amount of ribbing from House of Commons colleagues since her much-publicised reception into the Roman Catholic Church last month - not least because she took the confirmation name Hugh. Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, now delights in constantly referring to the Conservative MP for Maidstone as Hugh.

'I took the name Hugh after St Hugh of Lincoln, the Catholic saint, and after the Protestant martyr Hugh Latimer,' the doughty Widdecombe says. 'I got about 50 letters from outraged Protestants, angry that I was defiling the name of Latimer by associating him with Rome. And I got about 50 letters from outraged Catholics, saying I was defiling Rome by bringing with me the name of a Protestant martyr.'

Undaunted, Widdecombe joked to friends that the only people she hadn't upset were the Jews. The next day she received a letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews complaining that St Hugh of Lincoln was anti-Semitic.


27 May 1895 Helena Morley, a 15-year-old in Brazil, writes in her diary: 'A very funny drunken relative came here today. He is Americo, who lives by panning gold all by himself. When he finds a little more gold than usual or a diamond, he comes to town and drinks until the money's gone. When he drinks a lot he always remembers our house and we get very upset because he comes in looking like a beggar and goes to sleep in the parlour. Today he came to see us and we were uncomfortable because we knew he was drunk. Papa was at home, something he hadn't expected, and Joao Felicio was with us. Joao said, 'Americo, you're a hard-working boy. Use some will-power, stop drinking, put on some decent clothes and ask Seu Antonio to let you work at his mine.' He replied, 'If I had enough will-power not to drink, and some good clothes, I wouldn't need his help] I'd look after you and him and everyone else.' '