Pandora: Lib Dem president under fire as he backs Clegg for top job

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The Independent Online

Simon Hughes has found himself on the receiving end of bitter cat-calls from Liberal Democrats after wading in with his views about the current leadership contest.

This week Hughes posted some comments on the political website Lib Dem Voice, in which he came out strongly in support for the candidacy of Nick Clegg. "I believe he has that X Factor," he wrote. "What has particularly impressed me is the way in which he is able to convey authentic Liberal values to a wider audience."

Hughes's comments have provoked fury among party officials who say that, as the party's president, he really shouldn't be seen to be taking sides so publicly.

So far, other so-called Lib Dem grandees, including the acting leader Vince Cable and former leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, have been maintaining dignified silences about their preferred choices. Although no one from Hughes's office would comment about the uproar, supporters for both Clegg and his opponent Chris Huhne are said to be furious with the comments.

One of the likely candidates to replace Hughes as president when he stands down next year, Baroness Scott, says she would have kept her trap shut.

"It is entirely a matter for the president but, personally, I wouldn't have done it," she tells me.

"The job of the president is to act as a mouthpiece for the members. If, for example, there was a problem with the election, the president would not be seen as independent."

Gurinder goes back to school for Christmas

The film-maker Gurinder Chadha has stuck one in the eye of the fun police who have banned Nativity plays.

On Monday, the award-winning British director of Bend It Like Beckham, is returning to her alma mater, Clifton Primary School in Southall, west London. She will direct their Nativity production, with a cast made up of six-year-old children.

"This is the first time that I have gone back to my old school and am thrilled to be working with the children," she says. "I feel very touched to have been asked to help out."

It will be good experience for Chadha, 48. Next year, she is due to take the helm for the big-screen adaptation of Dallas, where she will be directing John Travolta and several other of Hollywood's bulkiest egos. Keeping them in check is unlikely to be too different to working with a bunch of six-year-olds.

Paxo's fireworks night

Televised contretemps involving Jeremy Paxman are nothing new, but this one looks like going all the way to the law courts.

On Wednesday evening, Newsnight ran a 17-minute feature denouncing a report by the right-wing Policy Exchange think-tank which alleged that 26 British mosques were selling and promoting extremist literature. In a fierce exchange with the think-tank's research director Dean Godson, Paxman accused him of fabricating some of the receipts the group obtained when purchasing the material.

Policy Exchange vehemently denied the claim and is consulting lawyers to sue Paxo et al for libel. Newsnight editor Peter Barron meanwhile says they are sticking to their guns. Stand by for fireworks!

Webber watch

Following in the footsteps of Sir Ian McKellen and Honor Blackman, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has become the latest theatre star to try his hand at soap opera.

The acclaimed composer, 59, who has always resisted the chance to cast himself in his own productions, is due to appear in three episodes of Channel 4's teen show Hollyoaks next month.

"I have blurred fiction with fact all my life but never before on national television," he says. "Bless Hollyoaks for asking me."

It is a radical departure for the casting agents who work on the Chester-based soap, because male roles are usually dished out only to strapping young hunks.

Fancy an archbishop's tipple?

There is further evidence that the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, really knows how to push the right buttons when it comes to endearing himself to the Great British public.

Dr Sentamu, who has become a popular figure since he was appointed second-in-command of the Church of England in 2005, has just applied for a permanent licence for York Minster to serve alcohol.

A spokesman claims the licence will save the Minster time applying for temporary licences for events where booze is provided.

That will be good news for Dr Sentamu. After cutting up his dog collar in protest against Robert Mugabe on live television last weekend, he looked as if he was in need of a stiff drink.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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