Pandora: When the chips are down, the Tories' pal is McCain

Oliver Duff
Tuesday 22 January 2008 01:00

Quiet ripples of excitement among young turks at Conservative Central Office, as the Vietnam veteran John McCain edges into pole position to become the Republican Party's presidential candidate.

Junior aides have been informed that it is "taken as a given" that some of their number will be heading across the Atlantic should the Arizona senator get his name on November's ballot for the White House. Those selected will be able to cut their teeth in an election environment. The jostling for plane seats has started.

McCain and the Tories already enjoy a cosy relationship. The American visited Westminster in 2005 as a guest of Michael Gove, now shadow Schools Secretary, and spoke at the Tory conference in Bournemouth the following year, at the invitation of the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne.

Such co-operation is nothing new. In 2000, Osborne, not yet an MP, went to the US to work on the Republican presidential campaign.

A Shadow Cabinet source stressed the Conservatives are not "anti" any American presidential candidate, and leave all options open. "It is early days," said the source, "and we wouldn't want to make the same mistake we did in 1992, when we backed George Bush Snr and then Clinton got in." On that occasion, PM John Major suffered for offering to dig dirt on Bill Clinton's Oxford days.

Democrat Barack Obama declined a meeting with Dave, but impressed two of Osborne's aides sent to monitor the primaries. The shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is said to support Republican Rudy Giuliani. Their least palatable real contender is Hillary Clinton.

Ozwald Boateng is not pleased

Is this the worst thing to happen to Ozwald Boateng since the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, acquired one of his violent plum suits?

I hear that the exuberant Savile Row tailor, who has kitted out the likes of David Bowie, Michael Jagger, Jamie Foxx and Samuel L (for Leroy) Jackson, had his car towed.

Boateng was contentedly dining with chums in an upmarket Chelsea curry emporium when, as he dusted poppadum crumbs off his lap, he noticed that his beloved wheels were receiving the unwanted attention of Joe Warden and Co.

The first time I called his publicist to talk this over she was out of the office "at fashion shoot stuff". Some 30 minutes later she appeared to have made sudden vacation plans and was "away on holiday".

Boateng has been known to refer to himself in the third person, but is a decent egg.

Old big Ed unmissed

Filming is, at last, to start on the Hollywood adaptation of Paul Abbott's political thriller, State Of Play. Brad Pitt was replaced by Russell Crowe after quitting over script re-writes and Ed Norton had to stand down from the project at Christmas owing to a schedule clash. Ben Affleck steps in.

Norton's departure may make things easier for the screenwriters. He has a reputation for being a tricky character on set – and it appeared he would be no less so with this project.

"Ed is a huge fan of the BBC Parliament TV channel and of American politics," claims a US production source. "He had ideas about changes for State Of Play."

Norton has "previous". Red Dragon director Brett Ratner says the actor "likes to challenge the director".

For the bettor

On the night of Friday 5 October 2007, Gordon Brown told his closest advisers he intended to rule out an autumn general election. He agreed to sleep on it, and the news did not become public until late the following day.

Yet in the hours before the announcement, the political betting markets moved dramatically against the election. Who made a killing? And did they trade on "insider" information in the manner outlawed in the City, but still unregulated in politics?

The Tory MP Greg Hands has tabled a parliamentary question asking whether any breaches of the Civil Service Code occurred.

Hands doesn't believe a minister was responsible, but "far more likely it was a friend or contact of someone lower down the food chain".

Sweet pipe music

Tony Benn has shared platforms with a farrago of colourful individuals over the years. Perhaps none have been quite so potty, though, as the flaky-skinned musician Peter Doherty.

In April, Benn will speak at the Brixton Academy in the "Hope Not Hate" anti-fascism concert, to mark the 30th anniversary of the famous Rock Against Racism Carnival in Hackney. Doherty, who for a time persuaded Kate Moss to warm his chesterbed, is rumoured to be a "surprise guest". Says Benn: "Yes, of course I know who he is. The cultural side is very important. Everyone has their music – the young especially."

Teetotal Benn, a Glastonbury veteran, says he is excited but he will not be partaking in any of Doherty's "social activities".

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