Tory dinosaur digs up Duncan's closet past

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The Independent Online

Its been all of four years since Alan Duncan became the first Conservative MP to publicly declare he was gay, but the issue is still causing rankles within the party.

The Shadow Trade and Industry Minister famously "came out" in 2002 after 10 years as an MP. The party had hoped that the revelation might represent a new era of tolerance within the Tory ranks.

But Pandora has learnt that at a recent constituency AGM, Duncan was subjected to an extraordinary attack by a party member, who called on colleagues to challenge him for his seat. The individual, who the party has so far declined to identify, claimed Duncan had been wrong not to declare his sexuality for so long.

The member has now been reported to the party's national board, and is expected to face disciplinary action.

"This idiot pitched up and started giving out these leaflets claiming Alan had been wrong to mislead the selection committee over his sexuality in the past," I'm told.

"He then started harking for the selection process to be opened up again, to enable what he described as "real" candidates to stand against him. No one listened, and when he tried to speak to local members he ended up being shouted down on two separate occasions before finally having to give up."

Duncan's agent, Allan Dean, confirms that the individual concerned has been reported to party chiefs. "Alan was re-selected unanimously before the last election. We are surprised this issue has been belatedly raised," he tells me.

* Peter Tatchell isn't one to go quietly into the night, but yesterday he was forced to offer a rare white flag to his opponents.

The founder and figurehead of gay rights pressure group Outrage! had booked the liberal Muslim theologian Sheikh Doctor Muhammad Yusuf to address an annual fundraiser last night.

During his speech, Sheikh Yusuf was to call for an "Islamic reformation" which would reconcile Islam with "democracy and human rights, including human rights for women and gay people". But after Sheikh Yusuf received death threats from members of the Muslim community, Tatchell was forced to cancel.

"I deeply regret that extreme pressure from Muslim leaders forced Sheikh Yusuf to pull out of the fundraiser," confirms Tatchell. "We were looking forward to welcoming him as an honoured guest."

It's a rare climbdown for Tatchell, who famously took a nasty beating in 1999 when he tried to arrest Robert Mugabe.

* Out of all Tony Blair's opponents who enjoyed seeing the Prime Minister on the rack over the "cash for peerages" affair last weekend, one had particular cause to feel smug.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker submitted a written question to the PM just two months ago to ask if he intended to review and reform the Honours Act.

Downing Street saw scant reason to treat Baker's inquiry with any degree of seriousness at the time. The subsequent reply simply read: "No".

Suffice to say, there has been something of spring in Baker's step in recent days.

"It was a flippant answer to the question, but I don't think he'll be so flippant now," he tells me.

* It looks as though we'll be seeing rather more of Monica Lewinsky out on the "toot". The former White House intern had mischievous hacks smacking their chops with delight when it was announced she was enrolling at the LSE last year.

But so far she hasn't given them much to get their teeth into. Instead of exploring the London party scene, Lewinsky has kept her head down studying for her psychology degree.

But that could all be about to change, as she has struck up an unlikely friendship with one of the capital's foremost "goers", Tara Palmer Tomkinson. The two apparently recently shared dinner, and have remained firm friends.

"I was impressed with her," Palmer Tomkinson tells this week's Closer magazine. "She looked terribly glamorous and brought Hermes playing cards as a present, plus she was very complimentary about my cooking, so is evidently a woman of taste."

Sadly, TP-T admits to so far not having asked about her new chum's escapades in the Oval office.

* While Sven Goran Eriksson prepares to take England's footballers to Germany for this summer's World Cup, eyebrows have been raised after it emerged that the BBC's pre-tournament preparations have been in rather sunnier climes.

A trailer for the Beeb's World Cup coverage is being filmed in Cape Town - a move that has mystified some Corporation staff.

"It's bizarre that they've felt the need to trek all the way out there for this," says a BBC insider. "Much of the filming with the actors concerned could have taken place anywhere. You can't help wondering whether people have been topping up their suntans."

A BBC spokeswoman anxiously assures me: "We certainly weren't on some kind of jolly to South Africa. It was actually cheaper to film with a crew over there."