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Monday, 17 January, 2000, 06:56 GMT
Clutching at straws




By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

If Jack Straw is to be believed, he decided to intervene in the Mike Tyson affair to prevent some hapless immigration official having to square up to the fighter at Heathrow airport.

He has admitted that he was also persuaded to act - after previously insisting the decision whether or not to let Tyson into Britain was nothing to do with him - because of the damage a ban would have had on businesses.

He would also undoubtedly have been aware of the effect it would have had on thousands of fans who had already bought tickets for the fight at the end of the month.

But it appears there may have been an even more pressing reason for Mr Straw to step in.

Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV has purchased, for an undisclosed sum, the rights to televise the match.

Mike Tyson: made Straw look silly
Needless to say, Mr Murdoch, one of Tony's mates, would have been hugely unamused if he had had to cancel at the last minute.

His Sun newspaper, which switched sides to back Labour at the last election, is already at odds with Mr Blair over the European single currency.

The prime minister would not have wanted another bust up with him over the big fight.

It also appears that Mr Straw may have been hit with compensation claims from some of the business interests who would have lost millions if Tyson had been barred.

Promoter Frank Warren was set to lose around 500,000, but other businesses would also have lost out big time.

Mr Warren was particularly angry that the original suggestion that Tyson could be banned came only in the last few days when ministers had known about it for weeks.

"I'm disgusted that no one had the courtesy to pick up the phone and tell me about this problem," he said.

"It's not as if we put this fight on last week, we did this back in the first week in December."

Open door policy

The government's pledges to be more "open and transparent" have so far failed to impress most people.

But there has been an extraordinary example of openness recently and, of course, it was an accident.

With wonderful irony, it came as government "sleazebuster" Lord Neill unveiled his latest report calling for more control over spin doctors.

Lord Neill: too much transparency
A few of the journalists who turned up early for the press conference were handed a fistful of documents including, to their great surprise, a note from Lord Neill's spin doctor Philip Aylett and addressed to the boss himself.

It gave Lord Neill details of the press conference and suggested "having been introduced by me, you should make a brief introduction to the report along the attached lines" - Mr Aylett went on to suggest the topics Lord Neill should talk about.

But his advice continued: "You can then offer the committee members the opportunity to say something if they wish, but it would be helpful if you could impress on them the need to keep their remarks as brief as possible" - so that put them in their place.

It should never have been issued to the press, of course, and was quickly withdrawn.

But it gave a fascinating glimpse at the relationship between master and spin doctor.

No second coming

MPs were taken aback when New Labour's Helen Brinton announced her forthcoming marriage plans.

The divorced Peterborough MP revealed she is to marry one Alan Clark.

Helen Brinton: no mistaken identity
But no, this is not the greatest comeback since the resurrection - although if anyone could pull off such a showstopping joke on his colleagues then surely it would have been the deceased former Kensington and Chelsea MP.

Sadly not, this Alan Clark is the splendid political correspondent for Meridian TV. Everyone wishes them all the best.

Cross partying

It has almost become a regular sight to see disgruntled Tories crossing the floor to the Labour Party.

But we should not forget that one of the first was former Hexham Tory MP Alan Amos.

Mr Amos resigned his seat after he was found by the police allegedly engaging in a homosexual act on Hampstead Heath.

He was arrested just weeks before the 1992 general election and denied he was gay but admitted to "a childish and stupid" encounter - a touch of the Ron Davies perhaps!

He was cautioned but never charged and, in 1995, joined the Labour Party. Presumably his previously-held views that rapists and muggers should be flogged chime well in the party that has Jack Straw as Home Secretary.

So much so that he has now been added to the list of approved candidates to be Labour hopefuls at the next general election. All he has to do is find a seat that will have him.

Carry on questioning

Blair Babe Rosie Winterton is clearly an ambitious backbencher.

And she recently had the chance to make her mark and impress her bosses on two occasions within three days.

Rosie Winterton: flowering at question time
The Doncaster Central MP - affectionately known as the Barbara Windsor of the Commons - was first in line to ask John Prescott a question during his regular Commons grilling.

And two days later she polled high enough in the weekly lottery to ask a question of the prime minister himself.

But ambition and the whips clearly got the better of her. She asked Mr Prescott a question about rural buses which allowed him to make a well-prepared announcement about a government boost to local services.

Two days later she asked the prime minister if he was aware how successful his policies at tackling child poverty had been. He was.

Rosie - a plant both by name and by nature it appears.

Truckin' on

I can reveal that William Hague's long-awaited Euro roadshow is finally set to take off.

Hitting the road
Last year he announced with a great flourish that he intended to take to the back of a flatbed lorry to hawk his anti-euro message around the country. It was going to be the equivalent of John Major's famous soapbox. But nothing ever materialised.

It was rumoured - although denied by Tory central office - that the project had run into difficulties because they couldn't find a wagon made in Britain.

Apparently the problem has now been solved and the lorry, or whatever it turns out to be, is set to be unveiled any time now.

MPs are holding their breath to see what the Tories have come up with.

Aren't Reliant Robins made in Britain?

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See also:
14 Jan 00 |  UK
Tyson row prompts rule review
12 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Spin doctors face greater controls
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