Pandora: Now Labour braces itself for a bust-up at the ballot box

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown's Labour Party is sinking in the soup over its acceptance of dodgy donations, so the last thing it needs is a full-blown, internal party scandal on its hands.

A potential powder keg of a row has developed over the selection of the Muslim candidate, Yasmin Qureshi, to take over the Bolton South-East seat occupied by the senior backbencher Brian Iddon at the next General Election.

Back in August, Qureshi was a surprise winner of the contest to replace the retiring Iddon. What with the constituency enjoying a Labour majority of more than 11,000, the 47-year-old no doubt considered herself a shoe-in for a Commons seat. Four months on, however, local Labour activists are crying foul over how the ballot was conducted.

It is alleged that extra voting papers were produced before Qureshi's triumph, and several members have confirmed that they never received postal ballot forms. Kevin Meagher, the constituency chairman who was favourite to win before losing out on the night, insists: "There are many unanswered questions. The system was, frankly, a disaster, with ballot papers going out a week late, members being systematically missed off the list and more ballot papers produced than there were actual members. The whole thing is a mess."

Regional party officials are investigating the matter, which looks likely to end up on the desk of Labour's National Executive Committee. For now, Qureshi declines to comment, saying the issue is an "internal party matter".

Ronnie's girl still seeking a dress for the big day

The wedding between Ronnie Wood's daughter, Leah, and journalist Jack MacDonald next June is unlikely to be a stringent affair, but the Rolling Stone's budget for the nuptials is not a bottomless pit.

Leah's mother, Jo, tells me she had to rein her in over her choice of dress.

"Leah found one she was quite keen on when we were in New York the other day, but the bloke was charging thousands," she told me at a viewing of Bruce French's paintings at Mayfair's Scream gallery.

"I told her for what he was offering, plus all the flying back and forth she's had have to do for fittings, it was going to cost too much, so we're back to square one now, searching for something in London."

The Woods are likely to have their fill of confetti over the next few months. Jo's son, Jamie, is due to tie the knot a week on Saturday.

Chelsy's buff butlers cash in

Prince Harry's on-off squeeze Chelsy Davy was snapped partying with a host of semi-naked barmen last week at what was described by tabloid newspapers as a discreet "society rave".

Delightful then that Butlers In The Buff, the company which provided the topless staff, is now attempting to cash in. A press release lands on Pandora's desk offering journalists a free try-out.

"We are offering our services free of charge for any feature, news, editorial or pictorial ideas that you may have for your publication," it reads. "Think of us as the sparkle in your diamond."

Pandora has declined the kind offer but wishes the company well, although I suspect their chances of scooping a "by Royal Appointment" honour have now gone up in smoke.

Brady bunch

David Cameron has offered an olive branch to the grammar school-supporting faction of his party who gave him his first serious wobble as leader of the Conservatives earlier this year.

Aeception for "Friends of Grammar Schools" was held in the House of Lords earlier this week by Graham Brady, the shadow Europe minister who quit in May over Cameron's anti-grammar school stance.

Not surprisingly, Cameron wasn't there. But he did choose to dispatch his shadow Schools secretary and close confidante, Michael Gove, along for the evening.

"Michael stayed for a couple of drinks. It was all pretty chummy," I am told. "He seemed to smooth a few ruffled feathers anyway."

Stelzer made to feel small

Some of the BBC's eye-catching "autocuties" are excused the occasional blunder, but we really expect more from experienced newscasters.

On Wednesday evening, the Newsnight presenter Jon Sopel chaired a panel at the Policy Exchange think-tank which debated the motion: "Whether Cameron has changed the Conservatives for the better".

After hearing views from a panel including Times writer David Aaronovitch and The Spectator's political editor Fraser Nelson, Sopel went to the audience, beckoning a question from "the small man behind with the moustache." The "small man", who Sopel failed to recognise, was Rupert Murdoch's key "man on earth" Irwin Stelzer. Says an audience member: "Irwin stayed silent for a moment, then his moustache developed a curious, maniacal twitch."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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