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Lord Rothermere has an unlikely new fan

The latest scandals and gossip from Westminster and Fleet Street

Jonathan Harmsworth, Viscount Rothermere, and wife Claudia Clemence arrive at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty Fashion Gala at the V&A in 2015. Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Victoria and Albert Museum

In an interview with the Times, the Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere couldn’t have been clearer that he would never interfere with the independence of his editors. “Good editors want to be independent,” he declared. “My remit is to protect the independence, and not interfere in it.”

How lucky then, that a matter of days later, Daily Mail editor Ted Verity took it upon himself to run not one but two pieces that happened to be not entirely unhelpful to his lordship’s commercial objectives: they were both highly critical of any bid for the Daily Telegraph that involved Middle Eastern investors ending up with a stake in the newspaper.

Only towards the end of both was it acknowledged that Rothermere himself was also interested in buying the Telegraph and unmentioned was the fact that he had, until recently, been intending to part-fund his own bid with Middle Eastern cash.

What was not clear was why the Times should have felt the need to run a supportive interview with Rothermere. The flattering Times piece even praised the Telegraph’s editor Chris Evans – an act of almost unprecedented generosity between two newspapers that are direct commercial rivals – but it may well be that Tony Gallagher, the editor of the Times, has his own agenda.

“Tony took a close interest in this piece and he clearly wants to keep in with Rothermere,” says my man in the Times newsroom. “He had a good relationship with Rupert Murdoch, but is not on such a sure footing with his son Lachlan, who has lately taken over from him. Tony – like Chris Evans – is a former Mail man and it may be they’ve come to an understanding they will run the Telegraph together for Rothermere.”

What next for Michael Gove, who was interviewed by the National Crime Agency last week as part of their investigation into how PPE Medpro, the company in which the Tory peer Michelle Mone was involved, won £200m in contracts during the pandemic?

If he loses his seat in Surrey Heath in the next election – and the Lib Dems are gaining ground there – I hear whispers he may well get together once again with Sarah Vine. Not a remarriage, but setting up a public relations business with his ex-wife, the Daily Mail columnist, to make the most of their respective contacts books.

Vine already has her own company – the Barlby Group – and it could certainly encompass such a venture with the vague description of the nature of its business as “other information service activities not elsewhere classified”.

Ratings for I’m a Celebrity… may have plummeted, but the Telegraph remains in a state of great excitement about its hero Nigel Farage appearing on the reality show.

Only it can sometimes overdo it. Over the weekend, its website’s homepage featured a subhead about how Farage was enjoying himself “as just another jungle bunny.” It stayed up for some time on Sunday, before, finally, someone obviously decided that, upon reflection, this was clearly too overtly racist even for the Telegraph.

David Cameron’s political comeback as foreign secretary appears to have put his old pal Lex Greensill’s ambitions to develop a country estate in Cheshire on hold. Rueful about once again finding himself in the limelight on account of Cameron, Greensill is “pausing” his long-cherished ambition to buy Shotwick Park Estate, 502 acres of lush countryside bordering his home in the village of Saughall.

In 2019 Greensill began negotiations to buy the land where his wife is listed as the owner of a £475,000 property, and he overcame Chester West and Cheshire councils’ concerns about his credibility after the £1.2bn collapse of his Greensill Capital business. He is believed to have put up £4m to buy it.

Greensill was given the go-ahead to buy in the summer of 2021 after a council audit team investigated him following what were delicately described as “well-published concerns about the buyer’s business interests and relationship with a national politician.” This was a reference to how Cameron had attempted during the pandemic to lobby ministers and senior civil servants to try to secure a government bailout for Greensill’s ailing business in which the former PM had a significant financial interest. Cameron was then reprimanded by a parliamentary inquiry for his “significant lack of judgment.”

It could not have been easy for Greensill to put the plans on hold. He had set up a management company for the Shotwick project, secured trademarks to sell goods in the name of the estate and filed a “master plan” for his ambitious development – including proposals for a new car park, footpath and ponds and “regenerative agricultural, woodland creation and inclusive areas.” He had also provided a legal covenant promising not to build new houses on the land for 80 years.

Greensill is only interested in the land but a purchase would include Shotwick Castle, which the council says is a scheduled monument and hence protected. The car park he wants to include has made locals suspicious but Greensill insists there will still be some public access to the land.

Relations between Greensill and the local officials have been chequered, and in an open letter, the disgraced tycoon made his frustrations plain. “Some parish council members don’t like the way the proposed covenant was drafted, but refuse to sit down and talk about how to make it better… At the last parish council, the chairman refused to allow me to speak and you have again refused me the opportunity to speak at the upcoming meeting.”

Meanwhile, Cameron still has questions to answer about flights he took that were provided by Greensill’s company and shares held offshore which could yet trigger a tax investigation. Labour’s Nick Smith is meanwhile pressing the Insolvency Service to investigate Cameron’s role in the Greensill Capital affair.

Before Baroness Doreen Lawrence decided to join Prince Harry and Sir Elton John in taking the Daily Mail to court over alleged illegality, her Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust – named after her late son who was murdered in a racist attack – joined forces with the paper to offer two aspiring young journalists the chance to learn about the trade on its training course.

The initiative in 2017 was much-trumpeted by the Mail, but Baroness Lawrence has since understandably had second thoughts about the association with the paper and the joint venture has been quietly abandoned. Much had been made of the nurturing environment the Mail created for young journalists, but Baroness Lawrence may have felt they parted company not a moment too soon. A senior journalist on the paper was last week accused of groping a young colleague, an allegation he strenuously denied.

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