Wife stands between Ming and the backbiters

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown suddenly hiding his starting gun up his kilt and forgetting about a general election means that the spectre of political euthanasia hangs over the Lib Dem's beleaguered leader, Sir Menzies Campbell.

Had there been an election this autumn, the polls indicate Ming's party would have fared badly. Young turks like Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg could subsequently take a hammer to their ancient Chinese artefact and justifiably put Ming out of his misery. They would then fight one another in a leadership election. Ming reportedly favours Huhne.

In the aftermath of Gordon "bottling it", senior Lib Dems grumble they are "lumbered" with Ming for a further, patience-testing, 18 months. A senior Lib Dem in Westminster tells Pandora: "The polls show his leadership is not working. Our only salvation is if he steps down. The only way that will happen is if we can convince his wife he should. And that's the difficulty."

Pandora asked Huhne and Clegg yesterday if they unequivocally endorse their leader. "I will never stand against Ming so long as he is leader," promises Clegg.

Huhne is less categorical. "I'm not thinking about it," he says. "I've got other things to get on with."

Right behind you, Ming!

Blunt avoids bumpy ride with the Fourth Estate

He may have been a tank commander in the army, but warbling James Blunt (*é Blount) is a nervous passenger.

Plans had been finalised for him to be chauffeured to a music awards ceremony yesterday lunchtime. But a screeching handbrake turn was performed when the singer's "people" discovered that the wannabe Parker was none other than a representative of Her Majesty's Press Corps.

The official line from organisers of the stunt (meant to promote a new luxury car) is that Blunt suddenly had "some other duties" which prevented him accepting the agreed lift.

Perhaps he recalls the embarrassment meted out to Chris Moyles, Lemar and Jamelia by Top Gear drivers on their way to the Brits.

I am assured that the rumour that Blunt was to be taken for a long drive "south of the river, from which he may not return; an act of national service" is unfounded.

Peace in Middle-earth?

Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, announced a year ago that a legal row would prevent him helming the planned "prequel", The Hobbit. Devotees of Middle-earth were up in arms.

The Kiwi has been fighting New Line Cinema boss Bob Shaye in the courts, alleging unpaid royalties.

The family of the deceased Hobbit author JRR Tolkien is outraged about the unseemly squabble. "It would be complete madness for Peter Jackson not to be involved," Tolkien's great nephew, Tim, tells Pandora. "This is about corporate organisations going against the artist who wants to do the job."

Jackson has the studio boss firmly by the Bag Ends and Shaye is said to have initiated a ceasefire in the hope of still securing his services. Says Tim Tolkien: "This would be great news."

Daggers out

I was delighted to hear that Pandora's old, wine gum-scoffing friend, the Evening Standard theatre reviewer Nicholas de Jongh, will soon be treading where his rivals fear to go: the stage boards.

Fellow West End veteran Michael Coveney writes that de Jongh's play about John Gielgud's famous 1953 "cottaging" episode (when the actor was caught trousers-down in a Chelsea mews) has a run, probably at the Finborough Arms pub theatre in Earls Court, west London.

The scribe has been nicknamed "de Dongh Corleone" for his mafia-style assassinations of new shows. We can only hope that rival critics afford his fledgling pageant the generosity he heaps on others.

A series of unfortunate events

"Campaigning parents plan to burn children's books with grisly endings!" shrilled the Daily Mail on Friday. The paper explained that a group called the Happy Endings Foundation believes youngsters already have enough misery in their lives, and plans many "Bad Book Bonfires" around the country to burn novels with negative endings. Its blacklist includes Ned the Lonely Donkey, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and Anne Frank's Diary. (Yes, really.)

Alas, thehappyendingsfoundation.org is a fiction, registered by Mr Peter Rope, creative director of ad agency ArtScience, whose clients include ... Lemony Snicket. It boasts about its inspired publicity wheeze.

The agency wants people to "see the funny side" and said yesterday that it thought it had deleted the jokey reference to Anne Frank. Trebles all round!