Imran Khan on Naomi Campbell, Charles Taylor and the “blood diamonds”

Here’s a sneak preview of my interview with the ex-Pakistan cricket captain.

I've done an interview with the former Pakistani-cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan which you'll be able to read in a forthcoming issue of the New Statesman.

However, I thought I'd share an excerpt from it (below). I asked Khan about the night he and his then wife, Jemima, shared a dinner in South Africa hosted by Nelson Mandela. The other high-profile guests included Naomi Campbell, Mia Farrow and the new president of Liberia, Charles Taylor -- who is now standing trial for war crimes. (You can see the much-discussed photograph of that dinner and its gaggle of celebrity guests, including Imran and Jemima, here.)

Farrow's claim that Taylor, after being struck by Campbell's beauty on that September night in 1997, arranged for the supermodel to be given a so-called blood diamond, led to Campbell and Farrow having to testify at Taylor's trial in The Hague in recent days. In fact, the story has dominated news bulletins across the world despite the horrific floods in Pakistan.

What was Khan's memory of that now-notorious night? Did he see or hear about any diamonds? Khan told me:

I remember Naomi, of course. I remember Mia Farrow, Quincy Jones and I remember Nelson Mandela who invited us. But to be honest, I have no recollection of Charles Taylor or these diamonds that everyone is now talking about.

He added:

If there were any diamonds, I'd have been the last person to notice. I'm not really into jewels. But I didn't receive any diamonds and nor did my ex-wife.

(On her Twitter feed Jemima has confirmed Imran's account: "No Charles Taylor didn't give me any dirty looking pebbles -- unsurprising given the pile of dirty laundry I'm wearing in that postnatal pic.")

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.