Tory libel suit threatens a bastion of Old Labour

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The Independent Online

David Cameron's new-look Tories aren't just putting the wind up Tony Blair, they're also threatening a signal victory against the traditional Labour movement.

The left-wing newspaper Tribune - which counts the socialist luminaries George Orwell and Michael Foot among former editors - faces bankruptcy after losing a libel case against Simon Milton, the Conservative leader of Westminster Council.

Before Christmas, Milton, pictured, who recently received a knighthood, successfully sued the paper over an article published in July about the council's reluctance to allow pubs in Soho to fly the "rainbow" gay-rights flag. He was upset by an allegation in Tribune's piece that wrongly suggested - in light of this episode - that he might be homophobic.

As a result of costs incurred during the case, the newspaper's staff were warned that they face an uncertain future. They are now appealing to readers for financial assistance.

"The story ran last July and although we issued a full apology we got sued for a five-figure sum just before Christmas," says a source at the newspaper.

"It's probably putting it a bit far to say that we're faced with immediate closure, but it makes the future uncertain. We've had to appeal to readers for the cash; it's a sad state of affairs for the alma mater of Orwell, Foot, and Aneurin Bevan."

The affair also marks a break from tradition. Both Cecil Parkinson and Sir Jimmy Goldsmith abandoned attempts to sue Tribune when they discovered that the magazine faced bankruptcy; Milton, however, is a tougher cookie.

Huck shakes his ginger marimbas

Last week, we learnt of plans for Boney M: The Musical. Now I hear of another aging crooner with a dodgy haircut preparing to hit the West End. Mick Hucknall, left, is to be the subject of a new show entitled Simply Cuban, in which various Simply Red tracks will be given a Latin "makeover" for the London stage.

Theatreland sources report that the group's back catalogue is being revised for the project, which is to be choreographed by the Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips.

"It will be a love story interwoven with events from Cuban history," Phillips tells me. "It will be the Simply Red songs we all know but with a Latin feel, and lots of salsa and merengue."

Although Hucknall is a lifelong Labour supporter, it is unclear what political line the show will take.

His band's experiences of Fidel Castro's regime have been mixed. Although they launched their last CD in Havana, a celebration concert was cancelled after the dictator requisitioned the PA system for a political rally.

* When Stella Vine's collaboration with Mayfair gallery owner Tim Jefferies hit the buffers last year, art gossips blamed a behind-the-scenes bust up.

Although Vine, pictured - who'd adopted Jefferies as her dealer and "muse" that spring - claimed to have quit because she prefers working as an "independent", friends told a different story.

They reckon the couple hadn't seen eye to eye over finance. In particular, there was confusion over the issue of "advances" for Vine's paintings, which Jefferies sold for £7,000 each.

Last week, Jefferies spoke about the matter for the first time, at a party to launch the new Fiat Punto.

"We did all we could for Stella but sadly things didn't work out," he told me. "She's very talented though, and I genuinely wish her all the best."

Jefferies, who achieved fame dating Claudia Schiffer in the 1990s, is growing a beard. But he's a man of his word, so we'd better believe him.

* The novelist Alan Sillitoe is hoping to cash in on the success of Britain's latest pop sensation, Arctic Monkeys.

He's discovered that their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, was inspired by his 1950s novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

"The title's actually a direct quote from the book," says a friend. "Apparently, the band are big fans of Albert Finney, who starred in the film. Alan's highly excited, because if they quote too much of his work, he'll get a slice of royalties."

Sillitoe lives in hope. "Perhaps they ought to be called the cheeky monkeys," he tells me. "I won't buy the CD, but I might ask for a free one. You never know, this might also shift a few copies of the paperback." Canny!

* The plot thickens in the BBC investigation into alleged plagiarism surrounding its new flagship drama series Life on Mars.

Last week, screenwriter James Ruppert told me the show was "remarkably similar" to Spencer Haze, a script he (unsuccessfully) submitted to the Beeb in 2001.

He suggested the Beeb's former head of Drama Development, Serena Cullen, who signed his letter of rejection, might be guilty of funny business. But that now looks wide of the mark: Cullen moved jobs over a year ago, and tells me she had no role in producing Life on Mars.

A formal investigation is under way. Could another BBC boss be to blame? Watch this space.

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