Pandora

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CONSENSUS POLITICS may have passed on with the retirement of Paddy Ashdown, but the word is that his successor may be selected by mutual agreement. The race between Messrs Campbell, Harvey Hughes and Kennedy will be something of steeplechase with a photo finish according to insiders. The gang of four, (who may be joined by Taunton MP Jackie Ballard as the token woman candidate) will whittle down to three when Menzies Campbell bows out early and throws his weight behind Charles Kennedy. Into the final straight will go Nick Harvey and Kennedy, buoyed by their connection to the Lib Dem strongholds of the West Country and Scotland respectively. At this point, the party strategists say, Harvey and Kennedy will come to a gentleman's agreement. One source told Pandora "its got to be Charlie". But however Kennedy may enjoy the thrill of the chase, will he have the stomach for the poisoned chalice?

PAUL ROUTLEDGE has accepted a job as a gossip columnist with Geoffrey Robinson's New Statesman. The agreement sealed yesterday by the editor, Peter Wilby, hires the Mirror man to pen a Westminster diary similar to the Thomas Creevey column Routledge produced for The Independent on Sunday. Routledge's employment at the New Statesman comes despite the fact that his biography of Peter Mandelson was instrumental in the removal of both Mandelson and Robinson from the Government. Its nice to see that things can be forgiven so easily in New Labourland, but surely, this time around, Routledge will have to be a bit more careful about which of his stories find themselves printed somewhere else.

EARLIER THIS week Paul Routledge was busy at a launch of Mandy at Politico's bookstore in Westminster. He addressed the gathering in the form of a memo from Peter Mandelson. At the end of the memo, Routledge exclaimed "This was copied to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and Oofy Cross-Dresser," poking fun at Mandelson's former aide who has now surfaced at The Sun. Old Labour warhorse Austin Mitchell was amongst the crowd to offer his seal of approval on Mandy's demise: "It was one huge fall for Mandelson and one great leap forward for the Labour Party."

THERE WAS some consternation this week at a celebration marking the first ever appearance of the Bolshoi Opera in Britain. The evening, held at the Russian embassy in London, witnessed a cultural gaffe by some of the assembled hacks. A colleague of Pandora's described the scenes as the thirsty journos tried to order a vodka and tonic: "The poor waiters were dumbfounded as they tried to squeeze a tiny amount of tonic into shot glasses of Vodka. They couldn't believe that anyone would want to drink it any other way than straight."

COMEDY'S VERY own investigative reporter Mark Thomas (pictured) can be seen putting Geoffrey Robinson through his paces next week on Channel 4. The multi-millionaire MP receives a visit from Mark Thomas' Comedy Product at his Coventry surgery. Unfortunately, Robinson has not booked a venue to see his constituents and resolves the situation by seeing them in the back of his chauffeur-driven Jaguar. "It was a very New Labour solution," one of Thomas' entourage told Pandora.

PANDORA EAGERLY awaits the publication of Crime Weekly magazine. The new venture which aims for the Woman's Weekly style readership and promises "Death Row interviews" has had its publication date put back. "We have been overwhelmed during recent weeks by the wealth of potential content and massive intertest in this subject and we need more time to capitalise on this very positive situation," says Sally O'Sullivan of the publishers, Cabal Communications Ltd. So does this mean that crime does pay after all?

AT AN event organised by the London First group this week Jeffrey Archer told Pandora that if the Conservative Party did not back him for London mayor he "had no right to stand". However, after finding out from an Archer aide, also present at the event, that Jeffrey's campaign now involved 12 organisers, 300 people on the ground and the delivery of "hundreds of thousands of leaflets" Pandora was sceptical about such bravado. As Steven Norris, the other Tory hopeful for Mayor, put it: "If Jeffrey told me it was Tuesday I would have to check my watch."

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