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Mail in a rage at Matt Hancock’s messages

The latest gossip from Westminster and Fleet Street

Photo by Rob Pinney/Getty Images

After it secured the serialisation rights to Matt Hancock’s “explosive” Pandemic Diaries just before Christmas, the Daily Mail was all over the former health secretary. It ran a sympathetic interview in which Hancock sat “loved-up” with Gina Coladangelo – the woman he had left his wife for – and declared that he had shown the public who he really was in his book. A puff piece reported how Hancock was “all smiles” at the book’s launch party and the Mail even obligingly ran five verbatim paragraphs of what it admitted was the publishers’ “blurb”.

Sadly, Mail executives are now in a state of somewhat unchannelled rage about how 100,000 of Hancock’s WhatsApp messages were leaked, not to them – after they had forked out almost £50,000 to serialise the book – but to the Telegraph, and now Hancock’s name is mud so far as they are concerned.

On Saturday the Daily Mail fumed in a headline that Hancock was “a hypocrite and autocrat who caused lasting damage to our economy and national wellbeing”. The next day, the Mail on Sunday continued with the Hancock hatred, quoting “senior sources” saying he would never sit as a Tory MP again.

It wasn’t, of course, the hapless Hancock who leaked the WhatsApp messages, but Isabel Oakeshott, his co-writer. Hancock feels understandably aggrieved, but he needs to understand that Oakeshott is close to Lord Ashcroft – the owner of her publisher, Biteback – and Ashcroft is, in turn, close to the Daily Mail grandee Paul Dacre, and sometimes, at the Mail, it doesn’t really matter who they take their fury out on.

Meanwhile, ironists have noted that the actor Andrew Buchan – who played Hancock in Sky’s Covid drama This England – has seen life imitate art after leaving his wife for a dark-haired colleague, his Better co-star Leila Farzad.

It’s a measure of how shame no longer exists in our society that, 20 years on from the publication of Lord Archer’s Prison Diaries, his publisher, Pan Macmillan, is reissuing them next month to “celebrate” the occasion. Odd, as they not only published the original, but then brought out an omnibus edition in 2006, which is still available to buy.

Still, I am told that Archer is particularly proud of his Prison Diaries – Hell, Purgatory and Heaven – and is delighted about the latest money-spinning reissue. The Tory peer sees himself, after all, as the Great Storyteller – and that was precisely what he did to bring about his conviction for perjury, for which he served two years in jail.

Flush with the millions he’s making on the lecture circuit, Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, have their hearts set on Brightwell Manor in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, Oxfordshire, as their country estate, but they have yet to exchange contracts.

They are also feeling they need a new London pad more in keeping with their wealth and position, and have reportedly been looking at a swanky £4m apartment in Fulham, south-west London, that overlooks the Thames. They have put their current London house in Camberwell on the market for £1.6m.

I suspect the country estate will be where Johnson will want to spend most of his time, as I remember him rhapsodising about the 1980s television series Brideshead Revisited – in which a big country estate figured prominently – when he was at the Telegraph.

Johnson has, however, always found parting with even the smallest sums of cash painful, and is in no particular hurry to acquire either property, not least because his old friend Lord Bamford – the JCB tycoon – is still happy to subsidise his accommodation costs at a £20m pad in Knightsbridge, a short walk from Harrod’s.

In the latest register of MPs’ interests, he owns up to accepting another £3,500 from Bamford for “use of accommodation for me and my family from February to March”.

Rupert Murdoch’s 93rd birthday over the weekend was a relatively subdued inner-sanctum occasion and not – as has often been the case in the past – a Godfather-style gathering of the big media families.

A photograph taken by his 22-year-old daughter, Grace, was posted on Instagram showing Murdoch beside a two-tiered cake topped with strawberries and milk chocolate teardrops, with just one solitary extinguished candle. The cake had the words “Happy birthday Dad” on it.

It’s perhaps just as well it wasn’t a gathering of the media “families”, as the days when Murdoch’s Sun and Sunday Times were fighting side by side for Brexit with Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail are long gone, and they are now at loggerheads on a number of key issues. Murdoch may have a soft spot for Boris Johnson, but he recognises – unlike Rothermere’s titles – that he will never again be prime minister. Murdoch is close to Rishi Sunak, and his position was spelt out well enough in the Sunday Times when it said “Johnsonism is one of the reasons the Conservative Party trails Labour in the polls. Sunakism is its best chance of staging a surprise comeback for the next election.”

Murdoch’s minders, meanwhile, are keen not to overtire him these days and I am told it’s highly unlikely he will be in London for his summer party this year – quite a significant break with tradition.

The Mail’s attack dog, Sarah Vine, was predictably unleashed upon Gary Lineker. While admitting she was “no expert on football”, she wondered if he really was “irreplaceable”.

What amused Vine’s colleagues, however, was her evident irritation that Lineker had a “vast social media following – 8.8 million on Twitter alone.” This clearly grates when Vine is herself still struggling to make it to 50,000 followers on this particular platform, despite her apparent status as one of the country’s leading commentators.

Mail owner Lord Rothermere has himself been pushing his staff to increase their social media presences as he sees it as a way to ultimately drive even more eyeballs on to MailOnline.

Will Boris Johnson’s resignation honours have emerged by the time you read this? Some are wondering if they will ever come out at all.

Rishi Sunak has taken to making jokes about them – he said his dad was lucky to get a father’s day card out of him, let alone the knighthood that Johnson allegedly wants for his – and approving his predecessor’s list is clearly low down his list of priorities.

The real sticking point, so I am told, is still the peerage for the Mail grandee Paul Dacre on which neither Johnson nor the various committees that vet honours are prepared to back down. Sunak, meanwhile, clearly takes the view he has all the time in the world.

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