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10 August 2006 Edition

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The Fifth Column

Sex, Scrabble and Socialism

That headline's not the Sinn Féin general election slogan (although it admittedly does have something for everyone). No, they're some of the ingredients in a sensational court battle in which Rupert Murdoch's News of the World accused the former head and pin-up boy of the Trotskyite Scottish Socialist Party, teetotal Tommy Sheridan, of snorting cocaine during champagne-fuelled, five-in-a-bed sex orgies at a swingers' club called Cupid's and having affairs with a veritable harem of women, including a sometime call girl.

Sheridan (42) sued for defamation. No fewer than 11 'comrades' from the Scottish Socialist Party's leadership gave evidence against their fellow revolutionary and on behalf of Rupert Murdoch's rag.

One of them was SSP activist and a call girl in a previous career, Fiona McGuire, who claimed she'd had an affair with the charismatic (and married) Sheridan. She was paid £20,000 for supplying her 'kiss-and-tell' tale to the tabloid.

The court case itself was like a script for a Hollywood movie with Sheridan dramatically sacking his legal team halfway through the five-week trial and defending himself against the charges by the Murdoch global media empire of being a love rat.

Sheridan's glamorous wife and air stewardess, the nattily dressed Gail, stood loyally by him throughout, arriving at court to beam a fetching smile at supporters beneath her designer sunglasses.

Last Friday, Tommy triumphed. The jury found in his favour 7-4, awarding him £200,000 damages (and which the NoW is appealing).

Now the ice-picks are out as Tommy's Trots and his accusers battle it out for the heart and soul of the party, a party that is split more than ever before.

Giant killers

Tommy Sheridan comes from a family of well-known Irish-Scots political activists in Glasgow and the Scottish Socialist Party is the sister party of TD Joe Higgins's Socialist Party, more famous for its leader's Dáil one-liners than five-in-a-bed sex romps.

The trial was littered with memorable quotes from all sides, including classic lines from Sheridan himself.

On the allegations of cocaine taking and orgies, Sheridan said:

"You will hear of my addiction to Scrabble and sun-beds, not champagne, cocaine and swingers' clubs."

And after the jury's verdict, standing on the steps of the courthouse with a raised, clenched fist, Sheridan gave a trademark blistering speech which incorporated vitriol against the News of the World, love for his family, anger against the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon and a call for an independent socialist Scotland.

Ending his impassioned address to the media and onlookers, the amateur footballer likened the victory over the News of the World to the exploits of Scottish soccer minnows and giant killers Gretna FC:

"Gretna have made it into Europe for the first time in their lives, but what we have done in the last five weeks is the equivalent of Gretna taking on Real Madrid in the Bernabeu and beating them on penalties. That's what we've done."

British Airways' high life

Great to see that British Airways is flying the flag, and for once it's the correct flag.

One An Phoblacht reader reports that she flew to America on Monday night on British Airways. She tilted back the seat and kicked off her shoes to soak up the airline's High Life Entertainment service, including the in-flight movie offering.

Her in-flight movie? The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

Back of beyond

The annual Belfast Gay Pride parade passed off with much fun and colour and without any major ugly incidents at the weekend.

The only ugliness came in the form of DUP leader Ian Paisley's Christian fundamentalist protestors. The BBC said that, as the parade passed: "Members of the Free Presbyterian Church turned their backs."

Thankfully, the discerning gay community resisted being led into temptation.

Castro lasts longer

Jokes about the legendary staying power of Fidel Castro (he's 80 this Sunday, he's the world's longest-reigning leader and he's outlasted nine US presidents) are doing the rounds in Cuba.

One tells of him being given a present of a Galapagos turtle. Castro declines it after he learns that it is likely to live for only 100 years.

"That's the problem with pets," he says. "You get attached to them and then they die on you."

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