Dirty tricks mar by-election to succeed Peter Mandelson

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* The race to succeed Peter Mandelson as the MP for Hartlepool later this month is turning into a dirty tricks campaign that would make even the Prince of Darkness blush.

* The race to succeed Peter Mandelson as the MP for Hartlepool later this month is turning into a dirty tricks campaign that would make even the Prince of Darkness blush.

Labour's first piece of election literature - to be formally released at the weekend - was printed yesterday, and duly leaked to Pandora. It is devoted to a character assassination of the Liberal Democrat candidate, Jody Dunn, above.

Headlined "outrage at Liberal Democrat candidate's insult to town", the leaflet repeats an entry in Dunn's internet diary in which she is supposedly rude about Hartlepool.

Describing an afternoon campaigning with Simon Hughes, Dunn's entry noted: "Everyone we met was either drunk, flanked by an angry dog, or undressed."

Labour now claims that "the Liberal Democrat from Darlington has insulted the people of Hartlepool".

Dunn, for her part, is livid at being targeted by a "negative" campaign. "This leaflet is sad and ridiculous. The weblog reflects what happens on the campaign trail," said a spokesman yesterday."

Expect a sharp riposte next week. Meanwhile, the UK Independence Party - expected to beat the Tories into fourth - have their big guns ready to hijack any visit Tony Blair makes to the seat.

"We've put Robert Kilroy-Silk on standby. He's ready to take on Blair the moment he sets foot in the town," I'm told.

* DANNY GLOVER, the Hollywood star who partnered Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon , has become quite the activist.

Last month, he was arrested in Washington during a protest outside the Sudanese embassy. Now he's making a film about Haiti, whose politics he keeps a keen eye on.

It's a biopic of the Haitian revolutionary François Toussaint L'Ouverture, who led a successful slave revolt on the island in 1802.

"Toussaint's a very important guy, one of the most important guys in history," Glover, left, told me at Wednesday night's Screen Nation Film and TV awards.

"If you know who Napoleon is, you should know who Toussaint is. We haven't cast the film yet, but we're getting the money together."

Meanwhile, Glover is unrepentant about his recent arrest.

"It was a peaceful protest. People are dying out there, and I wanted to draw attention to that," he added.

* ROSAMUND PIKE is not the jealous sort, but - if she opens the new edition of Tatler - she could be forgiven for turning a delicate shade of green.

The actress's new boyfriend, a virtually unknown young artist called Henry John, is the subject of what can only be described as a hagiography, written for the magazine by one Rosie Garthwaite.

Bizarrely, the article fails to mention a pertinent fact: that Garthwaite just happens to be the ex-girlfriend of (wait for it) ... Henry John.

Describing a "perfectly formed struggling young artist", Garthwaite says, oddly in the circumstances, that "at first he seems shy".

"He is good-looking, in that just-tumbled-out-of-bed sort of way," she concludes.

* A RARE criticism of Kevin Spacey's new era at the Old Vic. The Booker prize-winning novelist Ben Okri, who also sits on the board of the National Theatre, reckons that the Hollywood star should make more use of the available British talent.

"The West End is in a mess, and the reason is that we are missing a whole generation of new playwrights," he said at a party organised by Vanity Fair and Dom Perignon.

"Where are the young British playwrights? Where is the talent? Yes, Kevin Spacey is putting on lots of new plays, but look at the writers of them: they're all Americans."

Up to a point. The author of Spacey's first production Cloaca is Dutch, and his second show is a panto, a genre virtually unknown in the US.

* My telephone stands to attention. It is the League of Gentlemen star Mark Gatiss, bemused by Simon Callow's recent comments - reported in this column - about the forthcoming Dr Who series.

Callow, you may recall, told me he'd been persuaded to play Charles Dickens in the show, because of the quality of Russell T Davis's script. In fact, the episode in question was written by Gatiss, pictured in the League of Gentlemen; Davis will produce it.

Notwithstanding this minor snub, Gatiss says: "I'm delighted to have him on board, especially as he knows Dickens so well, and says such nice things about my script. I'm a huge Dr Who fan, so it's a boyhood dream come true."