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Pandora: Horde hols

AS Tony Blair zooms from one summit meeting to the next, "The Horde" - Labour backbenchers - enjoy remarkably leisurely lives. In addition to all the weekends, bank holidays, Christmas, Easter and summer recesses, Government backbenchers have been allowed one "Constituency Week" off per term by Labour Chief Whip Nick Brown. That translated into roughly three extra weeks per year during which Members were (in theory) back home among their flock, free of any House voting obligations and resisting the temptation to fly off to Marbella or San Francisco on holiday. Now Pandora has learned that Labour's "Constituency Week" innovation has proved a resounding success. So much so that, henceforth, each backbencher is now allowed two Constituency Weeks per term! That makes six extra weeks of holiday..., er, of local case work for every backbencher. Now why would Labour Whips want to keep their "Horde" separated and far-flung for so much of the year? To keep it from conspiring, perhaps even rebelling?

Taki's pal

A COLLEAGUE at the Independent on Sunday, Alan Watkins, reported that Paul Johnson might be departing from the Daily Mail in the near future. When Pandora rang Johnson yesterday to inquire, there was no time to broach the question. "You're a gossip columnist, aren't you?" Johnson growled. "I don't ever talk to gossip columnists. It's nothing personal. I don't trust them and I've learned not to talk to them. Sorry. Goodbye." Pandora has to wonder if gossip columnist Taki, one of Johnson's most ardent supporters in recent weeks, receives the same cordial reception when he rings?

Dublin choice

THERE is still no successor named to replace America's Ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith, due to depart Dublin at the end of this month. Smith was loathed by the British government, so one would have expected President Clinton to have already nominated someone highly qualified and equally acceptable to both Dublin and London. Now the names of two strong candidates for the job have been leaked to an Irish newspaper in New York. One is Mike Sullivan, a former governor of Wyoming, to whom Clinton owes a political debt but who is virtually unknown outside his home state. The other, more worryingly, is Bruce A. Morrison, a former member of Congress from Connecticut, with strong ties to Sinn Fein.

Latvian humour

RESHUFFLE fever is in full swing. It's worth taking a glance at Paddy Ashdown's plans. Perhaps the number one Lib Dem candidate for the discard pile is David Chidgey, shadow Trade & Industry spokesman. Things started badly for the burly, cigar-puffing Chidgey in the last election campaign. On one occasion, receiving a delegation of visiting Latvians, they all erupted into guffaws upon hearing Chidgey's name. Unfortunately, its pronunciation sounded to their ears as the Latvian "cici" - in other words "teats". Perhaps Chidgey has a future on the Latvian comedy stage?

Merci, Hugh

FORMER Tory MP Hugh Dykes, who is fiercely pro-Europe, found his spiritual home with the Liberal Democrats after the last election. Now he is about to become Paddy Ashdown's special advisor on European Union Affairs. Pandora wonders if this special thank-you from Paddy might enhance Hugh's chances of becoming a Lib-Dem candidate in the next Euro elections.