Pandora: McCain won't beat Obama, former Bush aide predicts

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The Independent Online

It is safe to say that the former White House press spokesman, Scott McClellan, is likely to have had his name scrubbed from George W Bush's Christmas card list since the release of his memoir What Happened. Now, he has decided to twist a knife even further into the wounds of his party.

McClellan, whose book was fiercely criticial of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, was in Westminster on Monday evening to take part in a debate about the US presidential election.

Despite a long association with the Republican Party, he informed a surprised audience that he was expecting Barack Obama to turn over the party's nominee, John McCain, in this year's race for the White House.

"It all points to the possibility of a blow-out," he said. "I think he is likely to probably win the election. Obama has a very disciplined team of advisers and he certainly has a movement. He has the potential to change the political dynamic in America if he were to succeed."

As for his relationship with his former boss, McClellan said he had not spoken to Bush since his book was published in the US at the end of May. However, he did reserve one final dig for the erratic marksman occupying the Vice-President's office – Dick "Shooter" Cheney.

"I have not spoken to the President," McLellan said, "but I can tell you that I did recently receive an invitation from the Vice-President to go on a hunting trip with him. I think I'll pass on that one."

Miss GB's campaign is derailed in row over bus

The canvassing efforts of the reigning Miss Great Britain, Gemma Garrett, in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election appear to be the subject of a dirty tricks campaign.

Last week, representatives of Garrett, pictured, agreed a fee of about £5,000 with East Yorkshire Motor Services for advertisements to appear on its fleet of buses. All seemed fine and above board, except that on Monday the company got back to Garrett's team to inform them that, after contact from another candidate, they were unable to accept any political advertising "now or in the future".

Garrett's lot are spitting feathers because, they say, the company has taken on political advertising in the past. Their lawyers are now threatening to sue over breach of contract.

No word as to which rival candidate might have intervened. But a spokesman for the former shadow Home Secretary David Davis (running a campaign "against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms") says it's nowt to do with him.

"Absolutely not, that's not from our camp," I'm told.

Hanks fails his footie test

When Tom Hanks last rolled in to town to promote his movie Charlie Wilson's War, he arrived in an Aston Villa scarf and declared himself a die-hard fan.

"There are a lot of people out there who think Aston Villa are going to take the Premiership, and I hope they do," he said.

So when Pandora took along the winners of our Christmas charity auction, Pandora Clayton and her teenage daughter Olivia, to Monday's premiere of Mamma Mia! we thought we might check he was keeping up with his side's progress.

How does the Hankster rate Martin O'Neill? Can they replace Gareth Barry? "Er, I don't know, I mean I looked around and all I see on your TV is Croatia and Spain and so on," he told us.

Hanks isn't the only Villa "supporter" who falls into the fair-weather fan bracket. Others include dubious footie fans Prince William and David Cameron.

Modest Grant

Richard E Grant has recounted his upbringing in Swaziland in his 2005 film Wah-Wah.

Grant wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical movie, which was set in the 1960s, just before Swaziland received independence from the United Kingdom. He draws a line, however, at my suggestion that he might make a documentary about the land of his birth.

"No, definitely not. If I was a black Swazi, then I would, but as a white Swazi, no," he told me at a recent cocktail party. "I was brought up in colonial times and I wouldn't feel qualified. I go back there all the time, but I haven't lived there for 30 years."

Grant is far too modest. I can think of plenty of his millionaire Hollywood colleagues who think nothing of preaching on about the ills of Africa.

Fry brings a touch of gravitas to clubland

Surprising as it sounds, Stephen Fry is behind the latest addition to London's ever-expanding collection of private members' clubs. The popular humorist, pictured, is chairing the membership committee of a new haunt called Paramount, the brainchild of Pierre Condou, who also owns the edgy media hangout Century.

Fry makes an interesting choice, since he is hardly one of the capital's obvious social bunnies. But a spokesman for the project explains that he has been recruited to provide some diversity.

"Stephen is overseeing membership with [Brunswick CEO] Alan Parker, so we are targeting people from the world of academia and business," I'm told. "We are well aware of how many private clubs are opening now, so this won't just be aimed at the usual flashy media crowd."