A smoking gun? Labour MP found on tobacco firm 'hit list'

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* The Labour MP Kevin Barron is the target of a campaign that - even by the tobacco industry's controversial standards - looks set to kick off a splendidly hostile dispute.

A leaked internal briefing note produced by Imperial Tobacco, one of Britain's "big three" fag companies, reveals details of the extraordinary measures being considered to fight the Government's proposed ban on smoking in public.

The memo, obtained by Pandora yesterday, notes that Barron - a supporter of the anti-smoking group Ash - is to chair a Health Select Committee inquiry into smoking in public.

It claims that Barron, above, may "turn the hearings into a 'show trial', by using his powers to call CEOs of (tobacco) companies to give evidence".

As a result, Imperial and other firms intend to "manage who may be called to give evidence" at the hearings so that their CEO, Gareth Davis, is spared the embarrassment of being quizzed by MPs.

The document also reveals that fag companies will say they should be exempt from a ban on smoking in the workplace because they've a duty to test their own products.

Barron says the document provides clear evidence of an attempt to "manipulate parliament". It also adds to suspicions that tobacco interests were behind his failure to secure a ministerial post in 1997.

"I was shadow Public Health minister before 1997, and there's always been speculation that I didn't make minister because the these firms don't like me."

* Madonna's husband Guy Ritchie has professional - as well as personal - reasons to worry about his wife's fall from a horse on Tuesday.

Madge who is currently laid up in bed with several broken bones, was due to be the star turn at the London premiere of Ritchie's new film, Revolver, which takes place in a month's time.

As well as posing dutifully for the cameras, plans were afoot for the couple to play poker with several high-profile chums at the first-night party.

"Basically, Revolver's another Ritchie flick about the gambling world, and poker features heavily," I'm told.

"An online poker firm wanted to sponsor a celebrity card table at the premiere. It would have been a cracking photo-op, but with a broken collarbone, hand and three ribs, Madge will do well to turn up at all - let alone play poker."

The injured singer's spokesman wouldn't discuss the bash yesterday, saying all current plans have been put on hold, due to medical advice.

* Is all well with Mike Leigh's much-hyped new play, which is scheduled to open at the National Theatre on 15 September?

I only ask because invitations to the first night reveal that Leigh, right - who is both writer and director - hasn't even got round to giving his show a name. Some bizarre publicity posters were recently printed, describing it as "a New Play by Mike Leigh".

Despite this somewhat haphazard approach, the NT is adamant that all's going according to plan.

"The way Mike works is to develop the play during the rehearsals," says a spokesman. "We'll know what the title is when they are in performance, but in the meantime we are happy to call it his New Play."

* Tony Benn had a "moment" at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Tuesday when a member of the audience took exception to him puffing away on his pipe in the (non-smoking) auditorium.

"I've suffered passive drinking, passive arguing and passive politics for most of my life, so I don't see why the odd puff should do anyone any harm," he responded.

"I never ask anyone for permission to smoke. At my age, you don't have to ask anyone permission for anything. I'm a teetotaller and a vegan, so if I didn't have the odd pipe and cup of tea, life would be pretty miserable."

So eloquently put. And in such contrast to Benn's fellow lefty, Christopher Hitchens, who was reprimanded for smoking on stage at this year's Hay Festival. "If anyone doesn't like it, they can kiss my arse," was the Hitchens line.

* There is an unlikely addition to the waspish ranks of London's restaurant critics. The 1990s pop hero Gary Barlow has been hired as in-house foodie by Grove, a Notting Hill residents' magazine.

It's a brave move for Barlow - the chubby one from Take That - as he's had serious weight problems since quitting full-time pop. He ballooned to almost 16 stone, but has since got his weight under control with the help of the Atkins diet.

"Gary's a big food lover, but has lost quite a lot of weight since he started Atkins," says Lucy Cleland, his new editor.

"We're really printing his reviews because he's Gary Barlow, and not because he's the world's best writer. But what he's done so far has been fun, jocular, laid back and very readable."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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