Pandora: Tory donor: I'm still hedging my bets

Henry Deedes
Thursday 18 September 2008 00:00 BST

As the Conservatives prepare for their autumn conference, one of their most generous benefactors is still threatening to throw his considerable clout behind another party.

Stuart Wheeler, the rabidly Eurosceptic spread betting magnate who has poured an estimated £5m into Tory coffers over the past seven years, will today give a speech at the annual James Goldsmith memorial lecture in which he will urge the public to vote against the Tories unless they can convey a more Eurosceptic message.

"It's essential the Conservatives make two key manifesto pledges on Europe before the European elections next year," he tells me.

"They need to promise that if the Lisbon Treaty hasn't become law by the time they get to power, they will hold a referendum on withdrawing. And they need to pledge to renegotiate our European relationship, then hold a referendum on whether the negotiations were sufficient."

"I've always been a loyal Tory supporter and I'd prefer to back them but on this occasion, if they refuse to make those pledges, I'll be encouraging people to vote for another party."

Wheeler was courted last year by Ukip leader Nigel Farage, whom he described as "clever and articulate".

He added: "They may have had their problems but I've no doubt they could sort them out."

De Niro's Ray of sunshine

Robert De Niro recently walked off the set of Mel Gibson's comeback film, Edge Of Darkness, citing (that old chestnut) "creative differences". Since then, the producers of the project, an adaptation of the BBC series of the same name, have drafted in cockney tough nut Ray Winstone to fill in.

But if being replaced has left a nasty taste in De Niro's mouth, he wasn't showing it the other night.

"I am really pleased about it," he told me warmly. "[Winstone] is a great actor – and I think it should be a good production."

Sadly, when I asked what went wrong on set, his publicist inevitably intervened, saying: "No, no that's enough. I think he's just clarified it."

Spread not cred

Bang! In a cloud of safety pins and tartan trews, there goes the last-remaining slice of the Sex Pistols' credibility.

The band's lead singer, Johnny Rotten, has agreed to star in a new advert for British butter brand, Country Life.

"We don't think enough people know Country Life is the only major British butter brand and John gets the message through loud and clear," says a brand spokesman.

Poor Sid Vicious must be turning in his grave.

Back to work for Zane

The executives at London radio station Xfm recently suspended its scruffy breakfast show presenter, Alex Zane, for playing a "joke" song on air about rape.

A fat lot of good their punishment seems to have done. "It was like being on holiday," he tells me cheerfully. "I slept in a lot, watched DVDs and then went back to work.

"Everything I said at the time still stands," he went on. "I think it was all fairly pointless."

No jokes from Adrian

When John Prescott thwacked a voter in 2001, Tony Blair managed to brush it off with a wink and a "John is John".

The Lib Dems are yet to raise a giggle over Adrian "the commander" Sanders's little scuffle with former Lib Dem press officer Mark Littlewood, which has been the highlight of the party conference. His press office has refused to comment, though Sanders will apparently get to keep his job in the Whips' office.

Kane gives turncoats stick

London Fashion Week might have suffered a disastrous "brain drain" of designers this year, but thankfully one of our brightest young prospects, Christopher Kane, won't be joining them any time soon.

"No definitely not," he told me at his show's Bombay Sapphire-sponsored after-party. "That's not going to happen. I owe a lot to London." This year, a number of British designers have snubbed London in order to preview their collections in New York, a move Kane disdains.

"It isn't fair really – they have so much money and support over there," he added. "It's a huge platform. At the end of the day everyone always goes where the money is."

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