George Soros may well feel a need to give something back to Britain – he made a quick £1billion from betting on the fall of sterling during the 1992 Black Wednesday currency crisis – but the nonagenarian’s long-term support for Remain outfits has clearly not achieved the outcome he desired.
Individuals and organisations with fresh ideas about how Soros’ billions can be used to get the country back to its senses – and to combat populism – are finding it easier said than done getting his ear. One young man who managed to dine with Soros at his home near Kensington and Chelsea tells me he found it a profoundly frustrating and surreal experience.
“I found myself in a rather ill-lit dining room in which it was difficult to make out the faces of the other guests, who were seated some distance apart, and I noticed, beside my place setting, there was a red light, a green light and a microphone,” he recounts.
“One of Mr Soros’s minions explained to me that when the green light went on, it was my turn to say something, but I had to shut up when the red one was illuminated. Our host was the last to come in – he needed, of course, some support at his age – and after a while, when we had all got through the first course, he began a rather stilted conversation about the state of the nation.
“It was clear he was very hard of hearing, even with guests’ voices apparently being amplified into his earpiece by the microphones in front of us. When eventually my green light flickered to life, I made a few general comments but, as I attempted to get the conversation around to my organisation, which urgently needed funds, the red light went on immediately.”
I was lamenting only the other day how no one was bothering to put any donations Michael Gove’s way as speculation over an imminent Tory leadership contest intensifies. Now, however, a businessman named Peter Lumley has chipped in £5,000 and Vilosh Brito’s software company Information Edge a further £6,000. No one, of course, expects Gove to throw his own hat into the ring, but the Mail on Sunday informed its readers with a straight face over the weekend that his backing “could make or break a Tory leadership candidate”.
They appear to have forgotten how he backed and then knifed Boris Johnson in his first run at the Tory leadership.
When Dame Norma Major turned 80 over the weekend, she did not, needless to say, demand a lavish Veuve Clicquot-fuelled party with dancing to the music of Abba’s Winner Takes It All. She celebrated it quietly with Sir John at their home in Cambridgeshire.
I wrote a biography of Dame Norma and I find it hard not to be struck by how her approach to the job of being the prime minister’s spouse contrasts to that of the incumbent, Carrie Johnson. In the early days of her husband’s premiership, Mrs Major was once found working into the early hours, personally responding to the hundreds of letters that had been sent to her. She was adamant she didn’t want to be an expense to the taxpayer and refused secretarial support.
Six months on, with the correspondence and diary planning work building up and close to breaking point, she finally consented to one secretary working for her part-time.
The late Lord Rix told me the only point Mrs Major could see in being the prime minister’s wife was to try to raise as much money as possible for Mencap. He reckoned she was worth around £1 million a year to her favourite charity.
Mandrake wonders what was behind the curiously unctuous interview that Rupert Murdoch’s Times – and the day after, Times Radio – carried with the Ukrainian-born billionaire and Tory donor Alexander Temerko. That it was written by Tom Newton Dunn – the minion Murdoch got to interview his old mate Donald Trump – added to the intrigue.
Temerko was adamant about one thing in the piece, which was that Boris Johnson should hang on as prime minister as it “would be very expensive for the country” to hold a distracting leadership contest with so much going on in the world. “Boris has apologised many times, so for me, it’s enough,” Temerko stated.
Temerko may well be aware that Penny Mordaunt – the trade minister on resignation watch over Johnson’s Partygate lies – is emerging among the party’s kingmakers as the compromise candidate to succeed Johnson. Mordaunt is in Temerko’s black books for daring to oppose his plans to build a £1.2 billion energy cable from her Portsmouth constituency to France. He described her as “an absolutely uncontrollable woman”.
She retorted: “I will always stand up for what I believe is in Portsmouth and our country’s best interests. If that makes me ‘absolutely uncontrollable’, then guilty as charged.” Temerko is seeking a judicial review against the government’s decision.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Daily Mail was proclaiming on its front page that Theresa May was “the new Iron Lady”. Over the weekend, the former prime minister was among those attacked in a hysterical op-ed piece by Daniel Johnson – apparently no relation – that was headlined “Revenge of the embittered Remainers”.
The words underneath spluttered: “John Major. Theresa May. Nicola Sturgeon. Almost everyone at the BBC. The grisly alliance gleefully taking pot shots at the PM all have one thing in common – they STILL can’t accept that the British people ignored their lofty entreaties and voted to leave the EU.”
The Johnson who wrote this chose not to address the allegations of lying and partying that have been levelled against his namesake. He didn’t address why the European Research Group are calling for the PM to go, either. Presumably they are all embittered Remainers, too?
I was gratified to see Greg Hands, the energy minister, plugging my play Bloody Difficult Women, which opens later this month at the Riverside Studios in west London. He tweeted a link to a news story about the play with the words “now for the completely unexpected”.
His Chelsea & Fulham constituency is only a stone’s throw from the Riverside and I hope he will get along to see his former boss Theresa May portrayed on stage by Jessica Turner.
Interestingly, Andy Slaughter, the local Labour MP, has said not a word about it, but punters of all political allegiances and none are quite welcome.