Hitting his own sweet note

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ED BALLS, the Chancellor's economics adviser, is having the time of his life. No, not with Tuesday's Budget, which he claims not to have written, but with a full-size drum kit. The would-be Ringo Starr has installed the noise ensemble in his new home in Castleford, West Yorkshire, where his wife, Yvette Cooper, is the Labour MP. Being a woman of taste, however, she has banned him from playing the damn thing while she is in the house. Balls has to wait until her Saturday morning surgery to fulfil his absurd musical dreams. Not that he had many last week. He was woken at 4am every night by his new bride, telephoning her affections from the USA, where she was on a trip with the Commons Spooks Club, aka All-Party Security Services Committee.

WHEN Ringo Balls visits York for the European Finance Ministers' summit next weekend, Creevey advises him to inspect the rolling gardens of the Royal Station Hotel where the politicians are staying. As part of a pounds 250,000 makeover, the hotel spent pounds 20,000 on pansies, daffodils, primroses and crocuses, tastefully arranged in a floral replica of the EU flag. They reckoned without hungry tyke bunnies, however. As fast as they plant the flowers, the rabbits come out at night and eat them. A stockpile has now been set aside to put on a quick show for the visitors. John Hume, the SDLP leader, is fond of quoting his father's dictum that "you can't eat a flag". Oh no?

FROM the bulging file on Viscount Wallpaper, our Lord Chancellor: Lord Irvine is so ferocious, so it seems, that he even put the wind up the late Lord Goodman, the establishment's mountainous lawyer. When Michael Meacher, the Minister for Waxed Jackets, sued Master Alan Watkins and the Observer for libel some years ago - with disastrous results - Irvine approached Goodman in the corridor of the Upper House and asked if he could persuade Tiny Rowland to let Meacher off his costs. A visibly shaken Goodman reported the approach to the paper's editor, Donald Trelford. But Lord Irvine's influence is not all-embracing. To the best of Creevey's understanding, Mr Meacher was asked to pay up.

TO BE sold in brown envelopes only. A new book, So You Want To Be A Lobbyist?, is soon to hit the market. The authors are Iain Dale, owner of Politico's bookshop hard by Westminster, and Corinne de Souza, a former lobbyist with Charles Barker. It will lift the lid on what is widely seen as a sleazy occupation. But will it be tough enough? Dale has form in this field himself. He lobbied hard - and successfully - to abolish the national dock labour scheme, turning his bosses, the port employers, into millionaires. "It's not an anti-lobbying-industry book," he wails. "But it certainly doesn't pull any punches about the people who have gone wrong in the past." Dale singles out the dodgy use of MPs' researchers' passes to the Commons by lobbyists as one of his targets. This particular scam has been exposed many times, but it still continues. Incidentally, this will be the first book to come under the imprimatur of Politico's. The bookseller is going into the publishing business with five or six titles a year. Maybe there will be room for a companion volume: So You Want to Avoid Being Taken In By Lobbyists? Ian Greer could write that one.

THE comrades have got themselves into a real pother. MPs belonging to the "hard-left" Campaign Group at Westminster had a serious falling- out over the official strike by journalists at the Communist Morning Star newspaper. Some, like Ken Livingstone, sided with the management. Others supported the strikers. The outcome was an absurd fence-sitting statement backing neither, regretting the dispute and piously calling for an early settlement. This formula was to "superseed" (sic) all previous statements and Early Day Motions. It was so anodyne that it could have been drafted by Alastair Campbell himself. MPs are asking: what's Ken's game? Could it be that he wants his mates in Socialist Action to take over the failing Star, and make it the mouthpiece of the Labour left?

GRANTHAM is the birthplace of Baroness Thatcher and, therefore, some argue, on a different planet. Fatuous, grasping, privatised Great North Eastern Railways apparently believes so. Using modish airline-speak, they announced the other day that the train was "boarding" and the "on- train crew" were taking us to London. Down the line, the conductor (maybe he calls himself chief steward) announced, to general consternation, that we were "landing" at Grantham. Until then no one realised that we were airborne. A GNER spokesman prattles: "We are attracting customers from the airlines, so presumably the conductor was just trying to make people feel at home." Oh yes? But there's no airport in rural Lincolnshire. Perhaps this explains why GNER's fares are sky-high.

Paul Routledge