Major's PR man, the hereditary peer and a new lobbygate row

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The Independent Online

* Every so often, a "lobbygate" row rocks the secretive world of political lobbying - and another one is brewing this very minute.

It centres around a cosy business arrangement between Charles Lewington who worked as John Major's press secretary during the 1990s, and the Ulster-born hereditary peer, Lord O'Neill.

A fortnight ago, Lewington - now a leading political lobbyist - decided to bring O'Neill on to the advisory board of his company, Media Strategy.

It was a controversial move, since the Association of Professional Political Consultants, the industry's trade body, strictly forbids any "financial arrangement" between lobbying firms and any sitting MP or peer.

The APPC's rules were drawn up to prevent a repeat of past scandals in which firms were accused of paying MPs for political leverage. Breaches are taken very seriously indeed.

"Because Lord O'Neill is only on their advisory board, Media Strategy says it doesn't matter," says APPC chairman, Gill Morris. "However, Clause 8 of our code is clear and this stands in strict contravention."

Upon learning of Morris's objection, Lewington withdrew his firm from the APPC. Had he stayed a member, he'd have been subject to disciplinary action, and risked a large fine.

Despite the controversy, he made light of the affair last night: "We've resigned so I'm not sure what the fuss is about, but I can see why they might be disappointed that they won't be able to hang us."

* Mariah Carey's new single "We Belong Together" was pipped to this week's number one by "Ghetto Gospel", a collaboration between Sir Elton John and the late rap artist, Tupac.

In keeping with her volatile reputation, the twinkly pop poppet doesn't seem to have taken the news particularly well.

Believing that she would top the charts, Carey's record company promised live interviews to various radio stations on Sunday evening.

However, on learning that she'd been outsold by just 300 copies, they mysteriously decided to pull the plug on them.

Sources at Radio 1, who had booked Carey for its chart show, suspect she was being a sore looser.

"We were told that Mariah couldn't appear because she had to have a vocal rest," I'm told. "Let's just say that I've heard better excuses."

Carey's publicist offers an entirely different explanation: "She couldn't be on British radio shows on Sunday, because she was in Germany."

* Has Carole Caplin been gagged? In January, she marched on Downing Street with a petition against the EU food supplements directive. Yet when the issue hit the press yesterday, not a peep was heard from her.

Confusion surrounds the silence. The National Association of Health Stores - one organisation fighting the directive - reckons that she did TV interviews, but was "pulled" from bulletins to make space for coverage of the London bombings.

Another group, Consumers for Health Choice, plays a different tune. "Carole's abroad, so couldn't do interviews," they say. "But she did give us an approved quote to distribute to the media, so has certainly not been silenced."

Comely Carole, right - said to be Cherie Blair's "lifestyle guru" - recently criticised Tony Blair's drinking habits. The less she opens her mouth in public, the sooner she'll return to the PM's good books.

* On Tuesday evening, MPs taking liquid refreshment on the House of Commons terrace were ordered inside by "men in tights".

They were told not to panic, but that all entrances to the Palace of Westminster had been sealed in response to a security scare.

"It was a sunny evening, so we were extremely annoyed to be booted indoors," reports one. "They weren't letting people in or out, so we were effectively trapped in a very stuffy set of rooms.

"People were getting flustered until the man behind the Strangers' Bar shouted: 'Don't worry, I've got enough booze in here to last a week'. We responded with a huge cheer."

Speaks volumes about your priorities, boys!

* Lily-livered US airmen reckon it's "too risky" to set foot inside the M25, but American rock stars are made of sterner stuff.

Last week, Meat Loaf was on the Eastern Airways flight that skidded off the runway at Manchester airport. It's the second accident to have marred his trips to the UK: at Wembley in 2003, he collapsed on stage after a heart attack.

The veteran rocker now reckons his trips to the UK are "jinxed", but will carry on regardless. "Every time he comes to the UK something bad happens," says his spokesman. "However, he's got tour dates here this weekend, and will keep to them."

It's a brave move, but then Britain's not the only country where "Meaty" needs to watch his step: last week, he upset the Irish by saying local hero Bono "is too far up his own fucking arse".

pandora@independent.co.uk

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