Good news for Blair: his stalking horse has lost its back legs

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The Independent Online

That wasn't the only fight Marshall-Andrews got involved in, though. For the controversial Bill has also caused him to fall out with one of his closest political allies, the Grimsby MP, Austin Mitchell.

Their falling-out has the Labour left in disarray, since it's shattered the so-called "Melrose accord".

This deal, agreed at the Melrose restaurant during Labour's recent conference in Brighton, would have seen BM-A stand as a "stalking horse" candidate against Blair next year, with Mitchell acting as his running partner.

Now its been scrapped, after Marshall-Andrews discovered to his disgust that his so-called ally failed to vote against Blair's 90-day detention plans when the matter was first put to the vote last week.

Still worse, Mitchell wasn't even in Westminster for yesterday's crunch vote, but instead spent the afternoon touring his seaside constituency. A furious Marshall-Andrews is said to have telephoned to tell him: "Our deal's off."

Mitchell remains defiant: "I do object to the 90-day rule, but decided to abstain rather than voting against the Government," he said yesterday.

"Since this is not the same defiant stand that Bob is making, I no longer have the job of being the back legs of his stalking donkey."

* The TV style fascists Trinny and Susannah have hit upon an intriguing project for the Christmas special of their show What Not to Wear.

Instead of picking on podgy members of the public, the Sloaney duo are to update the wardrobes of so-called "plus-ones", the little-known spouses of famous people.

Although details of the show remain top secret, I gather a variety of potential other halves are currently being considered.

They range from Amanda Holden's fiancé, Chris Hughes, to Jamie Oliver's missus, Jools, and - please let it happen! - David Davis's scarcely-seen wife, Doreen.

"The thing about wives and husbands of people in the public eye is that there is just as much pressure on them to look good," Trinny tells me.

"After all, they are in front of the cameras almost as much as their partners."

Sadly, the couple's own hubbies, whose dress sense has been compared to Jeremy Clarkson's, have ruled out any involvement in the project.

* Ulrika Jonsson is accustomed to writing grubby paragraphs for the News of the World. But now she's decided to start her first novel, and is adamant that it's not even going to be "ghosted".

"I am writing it myself and I am on my third chapter. But it is going very slowly," she says. "I see it as a way of making a living and a challenge. It's not a Jackie Collins-type novel as people would expect, but nearer Joanna Trollope."

As to the state of any book deal, Jonsson adds: "Publishers are already interested, but I've not had any meetings yet. I think people would be surprised at the content."

Jonsson's certainly got form. Her last book - a 2002 autobiography - served to ruin the career of John Leslie, who was "outed" as the unnamed TV personality alleged to have sexually assaulted her.

* If you thought David Blunkett might go into hiding, think again. The fallen minister is to be the star turn at one of his party's biggest annual fundraisers, the Labour South-east gala dinner on 8 December.

"This is a rare opportunity to enjoy a rather special evening, while raising much needed funds for the Labour Party," reads an invitation sent to members in London and the South-east.

Curiously, the bash takes place at St Mary's football stadium in Southampton. "This only qualifies as being in the South-east if you buy into the EU's sinister regionalisation project," notes one member.

"Sadly, we've now got so few members left round here that it's impossible to fill a conference hall without 'ringers' from other parts of the country."

* Neil and Christine Hamilton made news yesterday after claiming their Battersea home was "screwed into the most God-awful mess [they've] ever seen" during a channel Five "makeover" show.

Among other things, the couple noisily complained that a somewhat camp team of interior designers had turned their living room into "a Morticia Addams pastiche of a funeral parlour".

And so they had. But are the Hamiltons in any position to deliver lectures on matters of taste?

This week, they agreed to launch a festive campaign for the charity Childline. The result is pictured, right. "We have plenty of celebrity supporters, but Neil and Christine are the best in the business when it comes to humiliating themselves," reckons an organiser. Quite!