Blogger calls on Beckett to name her 'backers'

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The Independent Online

As the Labour Government sails from one sleaze story to the next, Margaret Beckett is the latest minister to have questions raised over her financial integrity.

A mischievous Westminster blogger, calling himself Guido Fawkes, has written a letter to the Environment Secretary to ask about a trust she set up during the Nineties which, he claims, was designed to finance her leadership ambitions. He demands Beckett now reveals the identity of her backers.

"In the interests of openness, and which you profess to seek, I therefore call upon you [Beckett] to reveal the names of those who donated to the Margaret Beckett Research and Administration Trust," he writes.

Over the past few weeks, Beckett has been the self-appointed moral voice to the Government. Three weeks ago, she threw herself in front of Tessa Jowell's detractors (whom she accused of attacking women), and last Friday she made calls for David Cameron to reveal the names of anyone who'd loaned money to his party.

However, when I contact the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a spokesman insists she has nothing to answer.

"The trust to which the letter refers was a blind trust set up while in opposition in accordance with the then rules of the House of Commons and approved by the House authorities," I'm assured. "It dried up and was closed down many years ago.

"The Secretary of State is not prepared to make any further comment on this matter."

* Manchester United fans were spitting blood last summer when the American billionaire Malcolm Glazer took control of the football club.

Among the voices of dissent was the Cold Feet star James Nesbitt, a lifelong fan, who threw his weight behind Shareholders for United, a trust which battled to avoid a total buyout by the tycoon.

Interesting to note then that Nesbitt, left, who even gave £10,000 to the anti-Glazer cause, now appears decidedly more comfortable with the corporate direction of the club, and can be heard voicing adverts promoting its new executive boxes.

"Considering the stance he took against Glazer, it does seem a bit rich to now find him doing advertising for them," I'm told. "Jimmy should understand how this looks to many of his fellow fans."

A Shareholders for United spokesman is in diplomatic mood when I call. "We don't have a problem with him doing these adverts," he insists. "It's his business really."

* Keira Knightley's 21st birthday celebrations on Sunday night went off with a bang.

The actress spent a reported £35,000 on a shindig held in the Grill Room at Café Royal.

The dress code for the evening was movie stars from the 1930s, though I'm informed the evening wouldn't have been out of place in 19th-century Paris.

Guests were apparently treated to some erotic dancing throughout the night by a series of topless burlesque performers, one of whom appeared from out of a giant egg to wish Ms Knightley a happy birthday.

"Keira jumped on stage to join them at one point," says one party-goer.

"She then announced she'd treat us all to a striptease of her own.

"Sadly she backed out by making an excuse that she was wearing a horrendous pair of 'granny' knickers."

Shame!

* Pandora wouldn't normally pay much lip service to celebrity photographers, but it's with great sadness that we report the death of one the industry's real stars.

Bob Carlos Clarke, who was killed in an accident over the weekend, attracted a wide range of high-profile collectors, including Sir Elton John and the London society girl Tamara Beckwith.

"I'd known Bob ever since I was 16 and we were also neighbours," Beckwith tells me.

"He was one of the old school photographers who wasn't ashamed of being posh.

"He was grumpy at times but also wickedly funny.

"I just can't believe he's no longer with us."

* Both the main political parties have found themselves bent over a barrel this past week over their funding methods.

The Tories at least have been able to comfort themselves with the news that they are in line to reap a hefty windfall from the sale of their former Westminster HQ in Smith Square.

Reports last week claimed the party had finally managed to secure the freehold on the building, meaning a sale could fetch as much as £30m.

But there is one slight hitch. "The building will need more than just a lick of paint before it's shown to any potential buyers," says a former Smith Square regular.

"At the moment, the inside is pretty shabby, to say the least. There's also talk that a number of rats have taken up residency there."

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