Could the quiet man soon be the independent man?

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The Independent Online

But over the coming months, he is going to need all his powers of diplomacy to avoid one of the party's most embarrassing rows spilling over.

The potentially damaging scenario concerns Iain Duncan Smith, who last summer reportedly threatened quit the party if the Tories' former chief executive, Mark MacGregor, was selected as a parliamentary candidate.

IDS and MacGregor have been at loggerheads ever since the famous "Bestsygate" scandal in 2003, for which Duncan Smith became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

Having held MacGregor responsible for the (untrue) allegations that were made, IDS reportedly told colleagues he was ready to sit as an independent if MacGregor was ever selected.

The trouble is, friends of MacGregor are now claiming, that is starting to look increasingly likely.

"It's going to be awkward for David as Mark is just the sort of modernising candidate he's keen to have on board," says one colleague. "But at the same time, he clearly won't want the embarrassment of a former party leader walking out on him. It's a tough call."

MacGregor, meanwhile, is in diplomatic mood when I enquire about his plans. "I haven't decided," he claims. "I'm going to have to think carefully. I'm a big fan of Cameron's, obviously."

* Like many a fellow American celebrity before him, courtly rap artist Pharrell Williams has spent most of his time in the UK hobnobbing with the great and the good. Not only was he snapped chatting with Prince William at the Audi-sponsored Ascot polo challenge on Wednesday, I hear he also made a surprise appearance on-stage at Magdalen College's recent summer party.

Students were at first baffled the organisers had managed to book Williams, not least because he's known to command a six-figure performance fee. But it soon emerged Williams had agreed to waive his fee at the behest of the all-powerful US editor, Anna Wintour.

"Anna's son Charlie Schaffer was involved in organising the bash and apparently Pharrell owed her a favour," says one party-goer. "All the College had to do was just pay for his DJ's expenses. The guy really couldn't have been nicer."

* Stephen Fry has revealed a potentially prickly diplomatic incident that threatened to blot Robin Cook's early days in the Foreign Office. Speaking at the launch of Heritage Sector's "History Matters" campaign this week, Fry reported a stand-off between Cook and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern.

The incident arose when Ahern paid his first visit to Cook's office, where a portrait of Oliver Cromwell hung from the wall. "The Taoisaich walked in and walked straight out again," said Fry. "He said 'I am not coming in until you have taken down that picture of that murdering bastard.' "

"It was a bit like hanging up a portrait of Eichmann before a visit of the Israeli Prime Minister. That shows that history does indeed matter."

* The gloves are off! BBC political editor Nick Robinson has declared war on his fellow Westminster bloggers. His gripe? Accusations from political websites (as well as this column) that the BBC originally chose not to donate airtime to John Prescott's recent woes.

"This is another example of some blogs trying to make the political weather," blasts Robinson. "First, they demand to know why the mainstream media are not covering an alleged 'scandal'. Then they report unsubstantiated allegations which have been denied by those involved."

Blogger Iain Dale is unapologetic: "There's no reason why the likes of myself shouldn't hype something when we feel the media are deliberately avoiding the issue," he writes.

* Bad news for anyone out there looking forward to the publication of Sir Menzies Campbell's memoirs, provisionally titled Outside Lane. The book - for which Ming was said to receive "an apporopriate but not silly amount" - was scheduled for release this autumn. But since acceding to the Lib Dem leadership earlier this year, publishers have decided to shelve the project for the time being. "Unfortunately Sir Menzies just hasn't been able to find any spare time to write it," says his publisher at Hodder & Stoughton, Rupert Lancaster.

"I believe he managed to complete a couple of chapters just before last Christmas, but of course that was before his life changed dramatically when he became leader. We're now looking at a release date sometime in 2009"

But what if Ming's Prime Minister by then?

pandora@independent.co.uk

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