Pandora: Lembit's feeling spooked

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The Independent Online

Sadiq Khan isn't the only MP to have had his private conversations bugged. Parliamentary stud muffin Lembit Opik, who dates Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia, also reckons he's attracted some unwanted eavesdroppers in the past. "When I was a councillor in the 1990s, I was also involved in a democracy organisation which meant I was dealing with various East European countries," he tells me.

"Whenever I picked up the telephone I could hear my radio playing through the speaker, despite it being on in the other room."

Sadly for Opik, his attempts to pin the blame on the security services have since been ignored. "I publicly requested that MI5 come clean," he adds, "but I'm still waiting for an answer all these years later."

Bullets over Aberconwy as Betty returns fire on Hoon

Geoff Hoon enjoyed a torrid time during his stint at the Ministry of Defence but, even in the (relatively) more peaceful environs of the Chief Whip's office, the bullets are still flying.

Last week, Mr Hoon, right, was forced to threaten two former ministers – Kate Hoey and Frank Field – with expulsion from the Labour Party after they publicly refused to leave the pressure group I Want A Referendum, which is campaigning for a vote on the European Union Reform Treaty.

Now, Mr Hoon is facing further criticism from the campaign, after it was claimed that he tried to force the group to scrap plans to hold a mini-poll on the EU treaty in Aberconwy, North Wales, because the constituency's Labour MP, Betty Williams, was "very poorly". That was news to Mrs Williams, 63, who in turn informed constituents that she was, in fact, perfectly healthy.

"Our chairman was informed by Geoff Hoon that she had been very poorly," says a spokesman for the I Want A Referendum campaign, "so we did the decent thing and called the referendum off. But then Betty insisted that she was actually fine and in good health, so now the referendum is back on. People will be getting their ballot papers shortly."

Mr Hoon's spokesman would not comment, but a friend denied that the MP for Ashfield tried to use the issue of Mrs Williams's health to deter the campaign.

"He certainly did not say they should pull the referendum because of the state of her health," I am told.

Ricky makes sure the joke is on Wossy

Jonathan Ross doesn't usually take kindly to any slurs on his professionalism, but his good friend Ricky Gervais appears to enjoy making them anyway.

"He's a job thief. He's had Stephen Fry's job, Barry Norman's job, he's sent Parkinson off into early retirement, and he's crap at all of them," he told Pandora jokily as he arrived at Sunday's Baftas with his girlfriend, Jane, pictured left.

"I'd be nervous about mine, but he couldn't write anything funny if he tried, and I wouldn't back him to play a four foot two fat bloke from Reading."

Gervais wasn't up for any awards on the night, though he usually leaves these TV shindigs clutching a brace of trophies.

"It's not really a proper ceremony unless I bag a couple, is it?" he added. "I reckon they'll probably just bung me one at the end so everyone's not too disappointed."

Keira's icy-cool Valentine

There was no best actress gong for Keira Knightley at the Baftas, but she does have other reasons to be cheerful.

The British starlet told guests at Sunday night's awards ceremony that her foppish boyfriend, Rupert Friend, was whisking her off to Iceland this week for a Valentine's treat.

"Rupert had booked some swish trip through Quintessentially Escape which sounded like it must have cost a bomb," reports one. "I think he organised the whole thing as a surprise, she seemed pretty excited about it."

I trust that's the only surprise Friend has up his sleeve this week. On the topic of marriage, Knightley recently declared: "Not right now or anytime soon."

Hull's kitchen

David Prescott is displaying the sort of staying power that made his gaffe-prone father, John, one of the great wonders of modern politics.

Prescott recently looked dead and buried in his bid to succeed his old man as MP for Hull East, following reports he had been "stitched up" by the unions and that Downing Street was not mad-keen on his candidacy. Despite this, he has just emerged as the winner of the valuable nomination from the constituency's Southcoates West branch.

The final result will be announced next month. Prescott, a London-based public relations adviser, is expected to face stiff competition from George McNamara, a charity worker, Gary Wareing, a former local councillor, and, ironically, his father's private secretary, Della Georgeson.

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