26 APRIL 2003, Page 10

The Questing Vole

Is Carole Caplin's continuing, apparently mesmeric, influence on the Prime Minister's domestic set-up going to produce a casualty? Westminster rumour has it that Alastair Campbell's partner, Fiona Millar, who until the arrival of Miss Caplin on the scene enjoyed unquestioned senior-adviserto-Cherie-Blair status, is about to leave Downing Street for good. When I called her office this week, a colleague said she was on her Easter holidays, and that they knew no more than that. Fiona: if you're there, reassure us that Carole hasn't seen you off.

Stories filtering back from Chris Patten's visit to Australia are doing little to allay the Right's long-standing fears that Fat Pang is some sort of Chiraquiste fifth columnist. Tory clubland has positively gurgled to the sound of pyloric valves closing at reports that Patten has for his speeches hit on the notion that he is 'a European with a British passport. — and is warning the Aussies that their best interests lie in sucking up to Old Europe.

My colleague Simon Heifer wrote forcefully last week calling for a total cessation of cricketing relations with Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe. Will the government take a stand? The Foreign Office minister Peter HaM declined even to express a personal view on the matter, and referred me to Jack Straw. 'It's not part of my portfolio,' he said. Jack Straw hasn't pronounced on the subject yet, and it's safe to assume he'll keep his powder dry. The holding position — balanced carefully between Foreign Office and DCMS stools — is that Zimbabwe coming here is fine; that we currently advise against letting our teams play in Zimbabwe but that it's really a matter for the cricket authorities; and that the tour of Zimbabwe that said authorities have pencilled in for November next year is still 'a long way off'. When in some quarters we're available to project our ethical foreign policy with military force, this can't help looking a bit lame.

The cheery psychoanalytic rent-a-quote Oliver James is in the soup up to his neck after claiming in a Sunday paper that Suzanne Moore — the feminist icon and hairstyle pioneer — once 'tried and rejected lesbianism'. Miss Moore has written to the paper disagreeing in green-ink-on-filingpaper language: 'Let's have some names and numbers at least. Do fill me in, Oliver — if that is not an unfortunate turn of phrase — as even I find it difficult to believe that you are as uninformed and humourless about

my sexual preferences as you are about everything else. Yours man-hatingly$ she signed herself off, 'Suzanne Moore, Lesboland. London N16.' Splendid.

publication of the latest volume of Harold Macmillan's diaries — covering 1950-57, and due out on 4 April — was halted at the eleventh hour after the publishers noticed that they contained a grave libel on someone still living. What on earth could it have been? The most popular theory was that it was because Supermac described Denis Healey as having been a Communist. Lord Healey, however, roared with laughter at the idea of legal action when I contacted him this week in his Sussex fastness. 'I certainly wouldn't sue over that. It's quite true, and I said so in my own memoirs.! was a Communist for two years in Oxford before the war — along with Iris Murdoch and John Biggs-Davison, a future president of the Tory party Monday Club!'

The Iraqi National Congress — the outfit led by Donald Rumsfeld's favoured candidate for the Iraqi leadership, Ahmad Chalabi — sound more and more like the chaps to bring Iraq the American-style freeenterprise culture it needs. A friend who visited Nabil Mousawi — Chalabi's right-hand man and INC co-founder — in their offices in exile in Knightsbridge (handy for Harrods) recalls: 'He was wearing an exquisite Italian suit, and drove a Mercedes with a private numberplate. I remember being struck, in particular, by his beautiful loafers.'

Asplendid contribution to the history of warfare arrives on my desk. In The Carnoustie Effect (Bublies Press), the author Gordon Lang considers asymmetric warfare in the 21st century through the governing metaphor of golf. The Carnoustie Effect . happens to the world's best golfers, raised on manicured

courses, when they encounter the fearsome hazards of the ancient Carnoustie links.' On the front cover, the Twin Towers ablaze; on the back cover, a shot of a golf tournament,

Who will succeed George W. Bush as President? I'm told New York's former mayor. Rudolph Giuliani, long rumoured to be a runner, now confirms privately that he will be seeking the 2008 Republican nomination with the backing of Bush. (He'll leave 2004 to the incumbent as a goodwill gesture.) Chances. with Bush on his side, of him failing to get it? Nil.

Aihnong the various charity appeals which ave raised funds on the back of Little Ali — the Iraqi boy who lost his arms to an American bomb — that of the Daily Mirror has been singled out for criticism. Their 'Ali Appeal' has been raising funds for Unicef

— a charity which does immense good work in Iraq and elsewhere, but, it was pointed out, was never in a position to get involved with Al's case. Is Unicef to be blamed for this sleight of hand? 'They begged for it not to be called the Ali Appeal,' I'm told.

Consider the curiously puffy, pinkpowdered Sunday-morning face of John Humphrys; the halo of spooky white hair. . . . Could there be a role for him outside current-affairs broadcasting? Of course there could. Gerry Tebbutt — veteran of 33 pantomimes and a tutelary deity at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford — wants him for panto. 'It'd be a coup, wouldn't it? I think he'd be perfect. Mother Goose would be an ideal choice.'

The incomparably splenetic satirist Michael Wharton, aka the Daily Telegraph's Peter Simple, last week celebrated his 90th birthday. We can be confident the occasion will have been observed in his customarily restrained manner. He is a man of few words. After a handsome eulogy for him was delivered at his 80th birthday party, the assembled company turned to await his reply. His schooner rose minutely above the surface of the table. He paused for a beat. 'Viva — Pinocher he barked. And fell silent.

How is Tim Bell, flamboyant PR-man-inchief to Margaret Thatcher in the high old days of the Conservative ascendancy? Has his ennoblement, we wonder, gone to his silly old head? At his company, Chime

— as in Bell, presumably — he rejoices to receive his emails at the rather grand address of lordbell@chime.plc.uk.