Max meets Mohamed in Tories' worst nightmare

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The Independent Online
The two men Conservatives probably loathe above all others have joined forces to do as much harm to the party as possible in the run-up to the general election.

Max Clifford, publicist and pedlar of stories about ministers' private lives supreme, has linked up with Mohamed Al Fayed, multi-millionaire owner of Harrods and exposer of "cash for questions".

News of the unlikely alliance - unholy is how it will be viewed in Tory circles - will raise the political pre-election temperature at Westminster, already feverish with rumours of further scandals about to emerge. For Labour their pact is potentially embarrassing, as the party hierarchy has tried to avoid charges of exploiting opponents' private peccadilloes.

Between them, the duo have accounted for the heads of several ministers, famously in Mr Clifford's case, David Mellor's, and in Mr Fayed's, Tim Smith and Neil Hamilton.

Only three weeks ago, Mr Clifford was responsible for ensuring a story about the private life of the Tory MP, Jerry Hayes, reached the tabloid press. At that time, Mr Clifford warned he had "two or three" similar stories to release before the general election. Mr Clifford, whose daughter suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, said he had embarked on "a personal vendetta" against the Tories because of their handling of the NHS.

Not content with bringing down two ministers, Mr Fayed has also claimed to have additional targets in his sights, notably Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, who the Harrods owner maintains pursued a vendetta against him by denying his application for British citizenship - something Mr Howard denies.

In the past, Mr Fayed has spoken of his admiration for Mr Clifford. Now the twin scourges of the Government have gone one better and agreed to co-operate. They had lunch together at Harrods last Thursday, and Mr Clifford confirmed to the Independent on Sunday that Mr Fayed offered to help. "He is quite happy to put all the resources at his disposal to enable me to look into things."

A one-man band, Mr Clifford said he does not always "have the time or the facilities", so he was delighted with Mr Fayed's approach. "There's no formal agreement, no deal, it is about how we can work together," explained Mr Clifford. "If someone comes to me with a story and I cannot afford to take it on, he has offered to help. I've said to him, 'I am happy to work with you.'"

Their interests, said the publicist, were the same. "We both hate corruption and hypocrisy, and very powerful people getting away with an awful lot. We have very similar attitudes on a lot of important things and a lot of very similar attitudes to some very important people."

Mr Clifford refused to put a figure on how much Mr Fayed was prepared to spend. "He is a very wealthy man," is all he would say.

A spokeswoman for Harrods said she could not comment on the alliance.