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Monday, 3 July, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Ken Follett: Novel activist

Millionaire writer Ken Follett has long been a keen fundraiser for the Labour Party. Now he's putting his mouth where his money was.

A living novelist who feels able to describe Marcel Proust as "literature's greatest fusspot" would seem to have no fear of courting controversy.

Ken Follett, best-selling author, political spouse and New Labour donor, is just such an iconoclast.

The 51-year-old has launched a salvo at the spin doctors supposed to operate at the very heart of the government.
Ken Follett
Food for thought: Dinner at the Folletts' cost 5,000

To Mr Follett they are the "rent boys" of politics.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is accustomed to the celebrities who flocked to New Labour in its early days openly questioning his rule. Ken Follett's scorn is, however, in a different league.

The comments of an author of 22 years standing arguably have more impact on the electorate than those of, say, a rock musician.

Mr Follett critics cannot even portray him as a bandwagon jumper.

Old and new

He was an active supporter of the Labour Party when Neil Kinnock was at the reins and is often credited with helping "New" Labour achieve its sheen of electability.

Mr Follett helped the party build up a healthy war chest with which to take on the incumbent Tory government.
Ken Follett's books
Eye of the Needle (1978)
Triple (1979)
The Key to Rebecca (1980)
The Man from St Petersburg (1982)
On Wings of Eagles (1983)
Lie Down with Lions (1986)
The Pillars of the Earth (1989)
Night Over Water (1991)
A Dangerous Fortune (1993)
A Place Called Freedom (1995)
The Third Twin (1997)
The Hammer of Eden (1998)

The fundraising dinners Mr Follett held at his Chelsea home have entered political folklore.

Over coffee, the assembled millionaires would be left to digest their host's invitation to contribute 5,000 to the cause.

"I always had to ask them for five grand. If I asked for too little, it would appear that I thought they were mean," Mr Follet has said.

Taking "Champagne socialist" jibes on the chin - "I've always been enthusiastic about Champagne" - the Groucho club member is no fair-weather friend of the party.

On the trail

He hit the campaign trail during the decidedly unsexy Welsh devolution vote and hung around polling stations for last May's largely ignored council elections.
Barbara Follett MP
Elected in 1997, Mrs Follett campaigns for more women MPs

True, in the first case the Cardiff-born writer was helping out Alun Michael - an old friend from his days as a reporter on the South Wales Echo.

In the second, his efforts were admittedly restricted to polling stations in his wife's Stevenage constituency.

Ken Follett is seldom mentioned in the media without reference to 57-year-old Barbara Follett MP, and vice versa. As a political team, the Folletts are yin to Neil and Christine Hamilton's yang.

Read Ken?

Married in 1985, the couple are true political animals. They even met while working for the Farnham Labour Party.

The millionaire novelist and "Blair babe" seemed to share a charmed political life: "Ken" supplying the cash and "Barbie" giving party bigwigs, such as Robin Cook, advice on their public images.
Peter Mandelson MP
Is Follett becoming a headache for Downing Street?

Mr Follett was even appointed to the government's literacy task force. An unsurprising move, considering his connections and that he earned 4m in 1998 from his writings - trailing only mega-selling author Barbara Taylor Bradford.

The honeymoon, it seems, is now over.

Some trace the chill in the relationship between the Folletts and the Blairs back to one of the Chelsea fundraisers in 1995.

Cherie and Tony arrived at the 4.5m mansion, only to be confronted by a gaggle of press photographers. The issue of who had given the tip-off remains unresolved.

Tough Luv

Other pundits claim Mr Follett has fallen prey to Downing Street attempts to distance Mr Blair from so-called "Luvvies".

A friend of ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and member, alongside Stephen King and Amy Tan, of writer's rock group Rock Bottom Remainders, Mr Follett had been crowned "king" of the luvvies.
PM Tony Blair and Cherie Blair
Is Tony Blair waving the Luvvies goodbye?

Whatever its cause, Mr Follett has not taken the rift lightly.

"Various Blair acolytes have been a bit rude about us on occasion," he wrote in his New Statesman column.

The man, who has openly ridiculed both Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, doesn't see this recent cooling of relations with Downing Street as being all bad.

"In today's politics, that's an advantage."

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See also:

03 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Spin-struck from the start
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Follett steps up Blair attack
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
'No longer a luvvie'
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Mowlam: Follett claims are rubbish
14 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Limit spin doctors, committee insists
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