Lunch at White's leaves Cameron's men in a spin

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The Independent Online

* David Cameron's amply greased spin machine took a nasty hit when it emerged that those pictures of the Tory leader biking to work were nothing more than a publicity stunt.

His PRs now face further embarrassment over his membership of the exclusive men-only St James club White's. Cameron was spotted on Tuesday lunchtime dining there with Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff and friend from Eton.

Interesting - given that Cameron has defended his membership of the stuffy establishment solely on the basis that it is a convenient place to meet his father, who is chairman.

A fortnight ago, Labour MP Dawn Butler accused Cameron of hypocrisy - calling for more female MPs whilst also supporting a club which bans women. She demanded his own shadow minister for women and equality ask him to resign his membership.

When I ring Cameron's spokeswoman, she explains: "David's father is really quite elderly now. So it makes sense that when he comes to London they meet at the club." She adds: "David doesn't go there for any other reason."

Whoops! I explain the situation to her and she promises to look into it and get back to me. By yesterday evening, Cameron's office have still been unable to contact him, because he is in South Africa.

Hopefully Dave will be in touch today to let them know he has arrived safely!

* Comedy critics have near-exhausted their superlatives reviewing Doug Stanhope's boozy, filthy, provocative Edinburgh stand-up show - no less than six of them awarding him five stars.

The aggressive American was mysteriously omitted from yesterday's shortlist for the gold-standard "Eddies" (the awards formerly known as Perrier).

"I'm dumbstruck," says his PR. "We can understand if someone doesn't live up to the hype, but Doug performed brilliantly." His mention of abortion and "Jew-hating" (his words) may have harmed his chances.

Nica Burns, the director of the awards, said: "Nobody was offended by his material - we're pretty seasoned. He is a cult comedian and often they don't win awards."

Stanhope's only comment before he zig-zagged on to the stage, swigging from a bottle of Corona beer, was: "Hey, you know, so what?"

* Andrew Motion's oblique verse originates from his mother's illness and death during his childhood. The Poet Laureate has now spoken about his "extraordinarily barbaric" years at Maidwell Hall boarding school.

"There were routine beatings for everything," he says, promoting his memoir In the Blood.

"It wasn't quite pervy, but the teachers who had come back from the war, those who hadn't lost arms and legs, were mentally scarred. It was deeply unpleasant and if any of them are alive today I hope they read my book."

Risking controversy, Motion also lamented the dearth of "native English" literature, explaining: "We are full to the gunnels with autobiographies about extreme experience and the diaspora. We mustn't forget what is native."

* Red faces when stand-up poet John Hegley took to the stage at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

A GCSE English teacher raised her hand: her pupils "just love" Hegley's poem about vacuum cleaners, she said. Could he please read it aloud?

"Errr... I've never written about vacuum cleaners," he stuttered back.

"Yes you have," she persisted. "I've been teaching it to my exam students for years."

A smiling Hegley, in Edinburgh for his Elevenses show of song and verse, told me afterwards: "Naturally I'm delighted they are enjoying poetry - but it's not my poetry they are enjoying."

Hopefully the mistaken identity will be resolved before exam time next year.

* When George "Two Mercs" Galloway tootles back to the Commons after summer recess, it won't be in his beloved shiny, red soft-top. On Sunday night the car (showing little indefatigability, it has to be said) blew up - black smoke billowing from the dashboard - whilst the Respect MP was en route to Southwark to record his weekly radio slot on talkSport.

It is devastating news for "Gorgeous", since the motor is his pride and joy. He claims to have bought it with the moolah he won in a libel action against Robert Maxwell.

"The car is now in a garage and needs totally rewiring," I'm told. "As for George, he has gone out to Beirut, planning on doing his live radio show on Saturday and Sunday evening - Israeli Defence Forces permitting, of course."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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