Home Secretary denies Brown leadership pact

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As other heavyweights in Blair's cabinet have fallen, resigned or been demoted, John Reid has remained, working his way through eight ministerial posts in seven years (currently Home Secretary, having long been rid of his "Oh fuck, not Health" portfolio).

Reid was therefore an obvious candidate for those supporting " Anyone-But-Brown" in the forthcoming election for the leadership of Labour and the country. He enforced his prime ministerial credentials by taking control of the alleged airport terrorism plot in August, and last night remained the bookies' second favourite for the job.

Yet Reid is said to have told Gordon Brown he will not stand against him. Thefirstpost.co.uk website reported yesterday that the battle between the bruisers has "ended quietly".

Reid "has realised support for a serious challenge isn't there," noted the article, adding: "Odds are that ... Reid will remain Home Secretary when Brown moves into No 10."

Allies of Brown said the story was "broadly right", but cast doubt on the details. "They did meet last week," my source says. " Reid signalled he's not likely to run. But talk of a 'deal' is not correct. The Home Secretary thing is wrong." Brown's spokesman refused to comment "on private conversations". Reid's special adviser could not be reached.

Were Reid's camp to dispute the Brownite version of events, it could lead to a repeat of the Blair-Brown enmity. And, even if Reid has promised Brown he won't stand, you wouldn't rule out The Doctor just yet...

Penny in row over hotel hiccup

While the rest of the world awoke yesterday to consider nuclear apocalypse, several members of our celebrity community pondered a separate, pressing matter: who leaked their hotel reservations to showbiz hacks?

Penny Lancaster, Rod Stewart's fiancee, and Cher "will be staying at the Penthouse suite in the Mayfair Hotel" for the weekend, we were informed via e-mail, while Ricky Wilson, lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs, also checked in.

The celebs' PRs are a bit put-out. The leak was "not on"and " bollocks", says Lancaster's spokesman. The Kaisers' publicist is " not happy".

Over to Paul Stacey, founder of Formula 13 public relations. Asked if he sent the e-mails on behalf of the hotel - its May Fair Bar is among his client venues - he replies: "No. I just heard it on the grapevine. Why do you want to know? Do you want to be added to the mailing list?"

Paxo fan brought to book

As the BBC's ankle-chewer-in-chief, Jeremy Paxman tends to reserve his most withering words for politicians and their spin doctors.

But at the Cheltenham Book Festival on Saturday night, Paxo rounded on one audience member (emulating John Grisham's charmless altercation hours earlier, reported in Pandora yesterday).

A young girl asked Paxman, promoting his new book On Royalty, if he thought the largely elderly crowd proved that the monarchy bored young people.

Paxo retorted: "Yes, I suppose it is fair to say that. But these people are more representative of the people of this country than you are. They're in the prime of their lives. It's not my fault you've got nowhere better to go on a Saturday night." So there!

Cold drinks

The Cold War marked a, shall we say, unpleasant period in Anglo-Russian relations. Reassuring to know, then, that when it ended, spooks from both sides clubbed together for a night-long boozing session, Soviet-style.

"In 1991, we went to the KGB head office and swapped stories all evening with these people we used to be working against," says former MI5 head Stella Rimington.

"We were drinking whisky and vodka long into the night and these KGB men were looking at us hard-faced as I was lecturing them on how they should behave now that they were in a democracy.

"Of course, they had no intention of behaving any differently."

Wedding march

Usually, when the British Prime Minster gets Northern Ireland's leaders to the bargaining table, the doors are locked and they are kept there until a deal is struck (it's the only way). But when talks begin over a power-sharing arrangement on Wednesday, at St Andrews, they will have until Friday afternoon, at the latest.

Unionist firebrand Ian Paisley has informed Downing Street that he and his wife Eileen celebrate their golden wedding anniversary on Friday - and he has no intention of missing it. "Dr Paisley and his wife will have been married for 50 years, so he will be leaving Scotland at 4 o'clock that afternoon to return home to Ireland," says his spokesman. "He has a family function to attend, which is a long-standing engagement."

And who are we to argue? Our congratulations, Dr Paisley!