The IoS diary


Peter Hain was tenacious in clinging to his Cabinet job, but even he must have seen the writing on the wall when he was given a resounding vote of confidence by Lembit Opik.

The Lib Dem MP for Montgomeryshire has an unmatched record for backing the wrong horse, so when an article by Opik appeared in the 'Western Mail' in defence of the Welsh Secretary a week ago, the Orange'un's fate was surely sealed.

It all began in 1999, when Opik was one of only two out of 46 Lib Dem MPs to back the failed leadership bid by Don Foster. Then, in 2006, when pressure mounted on Charles Kennedy to stand down over his drinking, Opik rallied to his support. Kennedy duly resigned. During the ensuing leadership campaign, Opik was campaign manager for Mark Oaten, but he was soon forced to stand down after his affair with a rent boy.

Hopes that the curse had been lifted surfaced when Nick Clegg became leader despite having Opik's backing, but with Hain's demise last week, it is clear the curse is here to stay.

Reports that Carla Bruni is to join her paramour in India this weekend seem wide of the mark. I hear she is organising a party for Nicolas Sarkozy's 53rd birthday tomorrow night at the Élysée Palace.

Sarko's aides are hoping the bash will be a low-key affair following reports in the French press that his exuberant love life is damaging his credibility. But as a former model turned pop singer, Carla knows the ingredients of a good party.

Those who find the ongoing saga of the President and the model embarrassing should consider themselves lucky – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is said to be smitten with Naomi Campbell after she interviewed him for 'GQ' magazine.

Over in Davos, it was Cherie Blair who provided the light relief at the World Economic Forum. She was helping out at a fringe event hosted by Deworm the World, a campaign which aims to do just that.

Cherie's role was to run round the room pretending to be an intestinal worm, chasing a group of helpers pretending to be schoolchildren. The only photographic evidence to have surfaced shows Cherie running with her arms out, airplane-style. That's not very wormlike. But no matter – Cherie does know about worms as she was dewormed as a child herself.

"Every time I mention this subject to my husband he looks very distressed and runs out of the room," she says.

He is normally a big hit with all he meets, but Tony Benn has aroused nothing but ire in Nigella Lawson.

The nation's most assiduous tea-drinker admits having provoked the Eaton Square housewife when they met recently. "My attitude to food is it's like taking a car into the petrol station and saying can you fill her up, please," he says. "When I said this to Nigella Lawson... she completely blew her top. But I want to get on with my life and not spend my time thinking about food. Since my wife died 10 years ago the cooker in our house has not been turned on once."

(Note to publishers: is there a book in this? – "Tony Benn's cooking for single men".)

Despite the departure of Tony to the international stage, the rest of the Blair family have not given up on UK politics. Cherie's stepmother Stephenie Booth has been selected to stand for Calderdale in the local elections in May. Tony Booth's fourth wife insists she will not be trading on her connections, or asking for any help from Tony Blair. "What I want is for people to focus on my campaign, rather than my relatives," she says.

Cherie has been accused of cashing in on her marriage on the US lecture circuit, although she answers critics by pointing to her use of her maiden name, Booth. So shouldn't Stephenie Booth have done likewise?

Amy Winehouse has no difficulty drawing a crowd, even from the ranks of former Tory MPs. For I learn that George Walden, author of popular right-wing tract 'Time to emigrate?' is a fan. "I went to one of her gigs at the Shepherd's Bush Empire," he tells me. But Walden declares a familial interest in the beehive-barneted singer – his son Frank plays the tenor sax in her band. "He's basically a jazz player, and the nice thing about the group is its appeal to me with my old-fashioned jazz tastes. I used to be a jazz drummer at Cambridge, but Frank's a much better musician than me."

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