IDS camp 'bricking it' over peerages investigation

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The Independent Online

Now that Inspector Knacker of the Yard has questioned Michael Howard as a witness to the "cash-for-peerages" police investigation, the question in Westminster is: Will the Bill speak to Iain Duncan Smith, his predecessor as Conservative Party leader?

Members of IDS's old staff are said to be "bricking it" about the possibility he'll sit down for a chat with members of the constabulary.

One former confidant to IDS tells me: "The joke is that Howard is comfortable batting away these sort of questions under pressure, but even when Iain hasn't done anything wrong, he cracks under pressure - his voice cracks and he'll put his foot in it. The Met's visit to Michael's house has really shaken them."

Of interest to the wide-ranging investigation may be Duncan Smith's final resignation honours list, through which four donors to the Tory Party were given seats in the House of Lords.

Three - Irvine Laidlaw, Leonard Steinberg and Sir Stanley Kalms - dug deep around the time of the 2003 "Betsygate" affair, when the party faced Duncan Smith's £300,000 legal bill. (An investigation cleared him of improperly employing his wife as his diary secretary.)

The Tories said then that the donations were not "directly or indirectly associated" with peerages. Duncan Smith last night refused to comment further than saying that he "has not been contacted, is not likely to be contacted and doesn't expect to be contacted".

"Cameron's people are furious," adds IDS's former colleague. "It could shift the focus away from Labour."

* Leicester Square this evening hosts its strangest procession up the red carpet, before the European premiere of Sacha Baron Cohen's film Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Of Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan.

The comic's zealously misogynistic Kazakh television host - who has enraged the real inhabitants of the central Asian country by misrepresenting them - will arrive at the cinema in some... well... "style" is not the word.

"Borat will come in a, er, Kazakh limousine," says an organiser for the London Film Festival screening.

A what? "A mule. But whether he will ride the mule or a peasant woman, we don't know.

"People from his [fictional] village will be selling their wares to the crowd: bales of pubic hair and barrels of horse urine wine. There will be probably be a few prostitutes in cages."

Wonderful to see cultural barriers shattered!

* Helena Bonham Carter was notably absent at the West End premiere of her new movie, Sixty Six, on Monday evening.

The British actress eschewed the glitzy bash in order to tend to her two-year-old son Billy Ray, who is nursing a broken arm after an accident at the weekend.

"He broke it on Sunday evening at home after falling off a sofa," says HBC's spokeslady.

"He had to be put under at the hospital on Monday night to get it fixed and Helena needed to be there.

"She'd have never forgiven herself otherwise."

* Although the star of Sixty Six was unable to attend (see left), proceedings at the premiere were jollified by the presence of British fashion stalwart Sir Paul Smith.

The film is set around England's oft-celebrated victory in the World Cup final (howay the lads!) - a time Smith recalls fondly. "The 60s were electric," he says. "People really let their hair down."

Surely hippydom cannot have overcome the straight-laced Sir Paul? "I might have dabbled it in it..." he concedes. "Flowers and long hair!"

Mysteriously, when I ask where he was during the national football team's celebrations, he replies: "I wasn't born yet, my dear!"

An interesting response. Not strictly true - he's 59 - but at least he hasn't joined the clamouring hundreds of thousands who claim to have stood behind the Russian linesman at Wembley that afternoon...

* A colleague is gently scandalised by the refusal of her MP, Mark Field (City of Westminster), to hold surgeries for constituents to pour forth their problems (housing, parking etc). "We just don't do them," says a man in Field's office. "It's too dangerous - we could get stabbed or assaulted."

In 2000, a Samurai swordsman attacked Lib Dem MP Nigel Jones and killed a councillor, Andrew Pennington. Is ending surgeries altogether an extreme response, though? "Crime's at record levels and the prisons are overflowing!" shrieks Field's staffer. "It's all the fault of the socialist government!"

This train of logic leads to the conclusion that Jack Straw's constituents are lucky to see him in the first place (even if he can't see some of them).

Let's... not go there.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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