Sarah Palin and the tomato saga

How to avoid having fruit thrown at you on a book tour

So the latest tale to emerge from the modern-day Odyssey that is the Sarah Palin book tour is this: the supermarket Costco recently removed tomatoes from its shelves to stop people throwing them at her. (Thank you, Huffpo.)

The original story came from the Salt Lake Tribune, and is accompanied by another Palin anecdote about the author, as she will now be known, scarpering from a hair appointment without paying. But what about this, from the hairdresser source:

After being ushered to a room on the 15th floor and given some instructions (don't talk to Palin unless she talks first) she did Palin's hair while the former Alaska governor chatted with her family.

Those innocent little brackets. "Don't talk to Palin unless she talks first". Really? REALLY? That's quite a demand, coming from the former governor of Alaska. It's quite Mariah Carey-esque in fact, which in some ways makes it hilarious, and in other ways makes it deeply troubling.

But anyway, Palin can relax. In contrast to her Minnesota escapade, she escaped tomato-free from Salt Lake City (which, by the sound of it, was also tomato-free by the end of her visit).

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.