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Gingrich books spark row

Newt Gingrich, the fiery Republican Speaker of the House, was at the centre of a furore last night after disclosures that he is to receive a $4m (£2.6m) advance for books to be published by a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

The advance is being paid by Harper Collins for two books, one on Mr Gingrich's convervative vision of America and the other essentially a collection of his speeches and writings.

Both are expected to appear next year and hardly had the first word of the plans surfaced yesterday than President Clinton and Democrats on Capitol Hill moved on to the attack.

The row has three main facets: the amount of money involved; the propriety of the behaviour of Mr Gingrich, who in 1989 led the Republican onslaught which forced the then Democratic Speaker, Jim Wright, to resign, partly because of allegedly illegal earnings on a book; and the Murdoch connection.

David Bonior, incoming Democratic Minority Whip, said the deal comes when authorities are again examining demands that the Australian-born Mr Murdoch should surrender control of his Fox TV network on grounds that it is controlled by foreign-based interests.

Mr Gingrich laughed off the fuss, saying his success was proof people wanted to read about conservative ideas, not Democratic and liberal ones. Even so, the exchanges can only heighten curiosity about his financial arrangements. Democrats have long demanded a full inquiry into what is known as `Newt Inc', the web of fund-raising and political-action committees promoting Mr Gingrich's views and Republicans in tune with them.