Awkward Bob foils Hilary the Whip's cunning plan

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The Independent Online

If you thought Bob Marshall-Andrews might resign from Labour's awkward squad of MPs after being threatened with deselection, think again.

The troublesome backbencher was told he could lose the Labour whip last week, after being accused of colluding with the Conservatives to defeat the Government's Religious Hatred Bill.

Now, in a move that will bring his critics to a rolling boil, I gather that Marshall-Andrews has cancelled a trip to Africa next week, specifically so that he can vote against his own party.

Hilary Armstrong, Labour's Chief Whip, decided last week to move several key votes - on ID cards, a smoking ban, and the Terrorism Bill - to the four days before the half-term recess.

At first sight, it was a smart move, since Armstrong had been told that Marshall-Andrews and other key members of her awkward squad planned to be out of the country on the (previously) empty dates.

However, it seems to have backfired. Marshall-Andrews tells me that he, for one, has already cancelled his working trip and now intends to defy the three-line whip.

"I was initially going to be away that week, and had informed the whips' office," he tells me.

"While I doubt that government policy is dictated by whether or not I'm going to be in the country, I will now definitely be staying behind. And it won't surprise you to learn that I will be voting against the Government."

Who won't be eating the camel pies?

Say what you like about Stella McCartney, she's certainly not a fan of ground-breaking gastronomy. The fashion designer, and noted vegetarian, has put out a press release criticising the food at the Grand Union, a pub near her Notting Hill home.

She's upset because its menu - which already includes pies made from camel and llama - may shortly be jazzed up by zebra steak. Apparently, serving any one of these three delicacies is bad form.

"In this day and age, I am shocked that people should act in such a medieval way," says McCartney, left. They should be ashamed of themselves. Lawrence of Arabia (another camel-loving veggie) would be rolling in his grave if he knew about it."

A spokesman for the pub expressed disappointment at the criticism from its famous neighbour, but said the camels had led a happy life.

"All the meat comes from a reputable supplier," I'm told. "It's farmed for consumption in the same way as a Sunday joint and tastes yummy as a result."

* Toby Young's memoir The Sound of No Hands Clapping - due out later this year - has already set tongues wagging in Theatreland.

The book is billed as a "tell-all" account of Young's efforts to become a West End impresario and actor.

However, I gather that it'll contain no reference to Who's the Daddy?, the play he wrote last year about the Sextator affair.

Sources blame the surprise omission on a dispute between Young and Nica Burns, who produced that show.

"Nica wanted to take Who's the Daddy? to the West End, and Toby initially agreed," I'm told. "Then he suddenly decided to pull the plug."

"Nica was livid - she could have made a lot of cash - but eventually agreed not to sue, so long as the whole row was airbrushed from the book."

Young, however, denies being leant upon: "The play was left out for purely artistic reasons," he tells me.

* A review of Alain de Botton's TV show Status Anxiety described him as a "young fogey with a passion for the past and corresponding distaste for the present."

The highbrow writer isn't a complete Luddite, though. For he's about to start working for an internet gaming company, king.com. The philosopher might seem an unlikely pin-up., but the firm is unperturbed by his geeky image.

"Most websites go for girls in bikinis, but we're at the intellectual end of the market," they say. "Alain's the first of several writers who'll go online each week to play word games against the public."

Of his new career, De Botton adds enigmatically: "the possibilities for not writing are growing exponentially."

* Seven years after he formally retired from the dug-out, "big" Ron Atkinson is making his comeback.

Tomorrow, health permitting (he spent the weekend in hospital), the perma-tanned manager will return to football as the boss of an all-star team playing a fundraising match against Macclesfield Town.

The appointment demonstrates that Atkinson has at last been forgiven for the Marcel Desailly affair, in which he was sacked by ITV for making racist comments about the Chelsea defender.

"Ron's recruited 11 of his favourite players from over the years, and several of them are black, actually," says a source at the club.

The man himself is already dusting down a few of his trademark bons mots for the big night.

"Well, either side could win it, or it could be a draw," he reckons.

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