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Hunt’s secret, Gove takes things to a new level and will a Truss biography trump the charts?

This week's gossip and scandals in Westminster and the media brought to you by MANDRAKE

Image: The New European

Officially published this week after a hasty rewrite following its subject’s downfall, Out of the Blue – Liz Truss’s biography – will be lucky if it sells more than a few hundred copies.

Its publisher, HarperCollins, will not divulge the print run for the book by Harry Cole and James Heale, but I am reliably informed that ebook sales, which kicked off in early November to coincide with serialisation in the Times and Sunday Times and extensive plugs on Times Radio – other outposts of Rupert Murdoch’s sprawling media empire – have been “minuscule”.

At HarperCollins there is a sense of gallows humour about the book, with one wag telling me he’d suggested it should be retitled 44 Days – the length of time Truss lasted in Downing Street – and that they simply publish 44 “collector’s item” copies. In the event, only the cover’s subtitle has been changed – from “The Inside Story of her Astonishing Rise to Power” to “The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss”.

Several booksellers in London told me they hadn’t plans to stock any copies at all, and the publishers – eager to shift copies any way they can – are disregarding their own publication date, with copies already available by post and at booksellers willing to stock it.

Books on contemporary politicians simply don’t sell these days, with only HarperCollins and Biteback, where Tory peer Lord Michael Ashcroft is the majority shareholder, really left in the market. Andrea Leadsom’s memoirs flopped in the summer, as did those of Tory peer Lord Peter Cruddas. Coming in December are Pandemic Diaries from former health secretary Matt Hancock, currently in the I’m a Celebrity… jungle, co-written by the fanatical Brexiteer Isabel Oakeshott, who has long thought the NHS should be privatised.

Meanwhile, Nadine Dorries is still trying to find a publisher for her book, The Political Assassination of Boris Johnson.

Beside a picture of Jeremy Corbyn wearing a cap emblazoned with a red star, the Mail on Sunday taunted the chancellor with the headline: “Call that a Tory budget, Mr Hunt? It feels like it came from a totally different Jeremy.” Its stablemate, the Daily Mail, had weighed in on Saturday with another hostile question in a huge typeface: “How HAVE 12 years of Tory rule left us with ruinous taxes, a migrant crisis and rampant wokery?”

An old hand working on Lord Rothermere’s titles says that it’s at least in part the inevitable consequence of Paul Dacre’s loathing of Rishi Sunak. The Daily Mail grandee will never forgive Sunak for what he saw as his betrayal of Boris Johnson. My informant adds, however, that it’s also about “realpolitik”.

He explains: “The Tories aren’t going to win the next election and this is about us getting into as good a relationship as possible now with Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. It reminds me of how the late Lord Rothermere and Sir David English, when he edited the Daily Mail, quietly began to build bridges with Tony Blair before he became prime minister. 

“Sir David attended the Labour conference before they got into office and briefly stood up and applauded Blair’s big speech. He hurriedly sat down when he remembered there were photographers in the auditorium. You can make this sort of thing too obvious.”

Jeremy Hunt’s budget may be giving us all a few more grey hairs, but for the man himself it appears to have had an oddly rejuvenating effect. His salt-and-pepper hair looked darker than ever on budget day.

His hairdresser is Gladys Lopez, of the Errol Douglas salon in Belgravia, London, which employs “colour masters who blend bespoke concoctions of colour to create a look that is unique”.

Lopez, who tends the locks of Brad Pitt among others, is a style director at the salon, which means her services begin at £220. Should I be right in thinking the chancellor availed himself of the services of one of the salon’s colour directors, too, that would have set him back a further £380. Small change, of course, for a man whose net worth has been estimated at £15m.

The Daily Telegraph may have tipped Boris Johnson as the next secretary general of Nato, the Guardian envisaged a more modest future for him as a Daily Mail columnist, and, over the weekend, the Mail on Sunday linked him to the chairmanship of his party, but the former prime minister has still to land the post-Downing Street job he would deem worthy of his dubious talents.

So no wonder he wanted to see Rupert Murdoch, who finally granted him an audience at his cattle ranch in Montana last month. Their meeting was described as private, but it may well be that Johnson sees a Piers Morgan-type role for himself in the Murdoch empire. Sir John Major once talked about former prime ministers needing to find roles that were in keeping with the dignity of their former office, but that’s unlikely to weigh too heavily on Johnson if there’s enough money up for grabs.

It’s possible that Murdoch raised the possibility of Johnson editing the Sunday Times: I keep hearing that the incumbent, Emma Tucker, is about to be redeployed to a senior role at the Wall Street Journal – but that would take a lot of graft, which would be a turn-off for Johnson.

Needless to say, Johnson didn’t pick up the tab for the travel costs. Murdoch obligingly paid the £11,000 for Johnson and two of his flunkies to make the visit.

On the subject of newspaper tycoons, Lord Lebedev has been in touch to assure me that he is not a non-dom and pays his taxes in the UK. The proprietor of the London Evening Standard retains British and Russian citizenship.

There are few if any Twitter warriors livelier than Peter Stefanovic, but the man who has become well known for his videos dismantling Brexit follies has been haemorrhaging followers. Some are telling him on the social networking site that they never pressed the unfollow button and are having to follow him again.

Stefanovic notes that it has only been happening over the past few weeks and notes, too, that it has been happening to others – Deborah Meaden is another victim – and they all happen to share much the same point of view about the mob now presiding over us.

Sensible and forensic lawyer that he is, Stefanovic doesn’t believe that Twitter’s right wing new owner, Elon Musk, has it in for them. “Of course, most of the accounts I follow tend to lean to the left, so I can’t speak for the right,” he tells me. “Twitter is closing down ‘bot’ accounts and that’s good, but this ‘unfollow’ glitch appears to be a side-effect. I don’t think it’s anything sinister. I just think it’s an issue that… Twitter doesn’t care about. After I pointed it out tonight, the following on my page suddenly grew by a thousand.”

The levelling-up secretary, Michael Gove, is taking luxury weekend breaks to a new level. He has just owned up to accepting a freebie from SRE Hotels at their Cliveden House hotel in Taplow, Berkshire, for two nights that cost an astonishing £2,036.

Gove itemises it thus in the official records: “Hotel accommodation for two nights £775 per night (including breakfast); dinner on Friday night £101.50; drinks on Friday night £80; lunch and other refreshments on Saturday £65; dinner on Saturday night £95; drinks reception on Saturday night £80; lunch and other refreshments on Sunday £65.”

Gove was attending an annual literary festival at the hotel, which he attended last year, too. His latest visit to the hotel – the scene of John Profumo’s first fateful meeting with Christine Keeler in the days when it was still Lord Astor’s home – cost twice as much as last time. Gove is clearly getting accustomed to the finer things in life.

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