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There is little love lost between the family of the former Labour leader John Smith and the Blairite inner circle. So there might be some nervousness in Downing Street that, more than 10 years after Smith's death, his family has granted author Mark Stuart full access to Smith's private papers to write a biography. The book, to be published by Politico's, was originally due out in the spring but is now to be published on 13 June, safely after the expected general election. It is not known if the Smith family arranged the delay.

The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw can expect some brickbats. In early 1993, Smith reacted furiously to Straw's persistent attempts to open a debate on Labour's old Clause 4. Stuart has dug up details of a stormy, hour-long meeting between the two men, which ended with Smith hurling Straw's pamphlet at its retreating author with the words: "And you can take this fucking thing with you, too!" Smith felt Clause 4 didn't matter as "nobody thought it described what a future Labour government would do" and he was wary of making "people change everything all of the time". Not that the book is expected to be a hagiography. "It also reveals a darker side to personality," promises the publisher, "such as his heavy drinking and explosive temper which threatened to ruin his marriage."

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Tory MP Greg Knight may have the secret weapon the Tories need to give their forthcoming election campaign that much-needed extra boost. He has invited his friend Frankie Valli, of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, to come over from America to do a few gigs warming up Tory election rallies. "He is an old friend and a staunch conservative," Knight told me at the Parliamentary Palace of Varieties show at St John's, Smith Square. Knight was playing the drums in a cross-party rock group, MP4.

Most of Valli's songs are non-political, though one, called "Beggars for Aid", offers a vigorous critique of the dependency culture: "Why should you work like the rest/When it's easier to protest/Just collect a welfare cheque," runs the refrain. Knight says that Valli will come over, schedule permitting. "He is also an actor and he plays an Italian mobster in The Sopranos."

Knight will be backing the guitar-strumming Shadow Cabinet minister Michael Ancram, who will be an item at Tory fundraisers before the campaign proper gets under way.

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In John Sergeant's new book about Baroness Thatcher, Maggie: Her Fatal Legacy, he recalls how she fussed over her then Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson "like a mother hen", seeking to improve his somewhat dishevelled appearance.

On one occasion, he was about to set off for a ceremony at Buckingham Palace when she noticed that his footwear was unacceptably scruffy, so she lent him a pair belonging to her son Mark. History does not relate the style of replacement shoe. Gucci loafers, perhaps? Elsewhere in the book, ex-Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd compares having an argument with Thatcher to a naval battle: "You could not let yourself be disabled by the first broadside."

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Mark Seddon toiled away for years as editor of left-wing weekly Tribune, drawing a modest salary and incurring the wrath of the Labour Party establishment.

Only a few months after his departure, lapsed subscribers are being targeted with a missive explaining how much better the paper has become with the "exciting new changes that have taken place".

These include, it boasts, "a clearer layout, expanded news coverage and some of the best political gossip in the Labour movement. We also have some great, new columnists such as Paul Routledge, Jill Palmer, Ed Balls and Andrew Marr". Most disturbing for long-standing readers of Tribune will be the invasion of their unremittingly Old Labour fiefdom by those New Labour voices Marr and Balls.

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That eminent puffball Sir Patrick Cormack, Tory backbencher and self- appointed Pooh-Bah of Parliament, may not be best pleased by one target of his party's zealous cost-cutting proposals. For among the many quangos and state extravagances identified for possible extermination by the Tories' James Review last month was Wilton Park, the swanky foreign policy conference centre. It so happens that Wilton Park's academic council features - oh dear - one Sir Patrick Cormack MP.

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Nigella Lawson has been talking about her culinarily deprived upbringing. "I grew up with cranberry sauce out of a jar," she wails. "I thought it tasted better for a long time until I got used to the home-made alternative."

Nigella also feels unworthy of the Domestic Goddess label. "There are many recipes I think I'll put in a book and then I think I can't be bothered to cook it," she confides. "I spill things. When I tell people `If I can do this, you can', I'm not being disingenuous. I'm not particularly dexterous."

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Has the informality of the "sofa culture" at No 10 gone too far, I wonder? Sun editor Rebekah Wade has been telling Fleet Street colleagues how at a recent meeting the PM felt sufficiently relaxed to remove not only his shoes but also his socks.

Meanwhile The Sun's TV biz column, by Emily Smith, led the other day with a noticeably soft item about a possible return to EastEnders by Ross Kemp (aka Grant Mitchell). "His comeback would be a huge boost," raved Smith. "An insider said, `It would be TV gold.'"

Who could that insider be? Perhaps Mrs Ross Kemp - otherwise known as Rebekah Wade.

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