In the tortoise-versus-snail race to take over at broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, I hear ex-culture minister Ed Vaizey is opening up a lead over Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor.
“Paul’s enemies are saying he struggled at the interview when he was asked about the legal and technical detail he’d have to master as the chair the organisation,” says my informant. “The fact is he’d mugged up and didn’t do too badly. He was maybe less impressive when it came to a mock TV interview where he was asked a series of hostile questions. Paul has never felt happy about being interrogated.”
He adds that although Dacre is Boris Johnson’s preferred candidate, the strength of opposition to him on the political left and in the broadcasting industry and the increasingly embarrassing stalemate – the job was first advertised in February last year and “final” interviews took place in April – indicated Vaizey was likely to bag the £142,500 job.
To say Dacre is not happy being called to account is something of an understatement: at his appearance at the Leveson inquiry into newspaper ethics, he occasionally resembled an enraged King Kong about to free himself from his shackles.
Dacre is gambling everything on getting the Ofcom job. He has put on hold both his autobiography and an opinionated Channel 4 TV series he had been invited to front, just to ensure he doesn’t stir up controversy ahead of the decision being made.
While very much on what’s left of the sane wing of the Tory party, Tobias Ellwood trotted out the old canard again that there was no plan to deal with a pandemic. “For the hundredth time, there was a plan which is why Public Health England was relocated years ago to the MoD facility at Porton Down,” whispers my exasperated man in Whitehall.
“The problem is that No.10 isn’t listening to their military, civil defence and medical advisers or their civil servants. We’ve plans for just about everything, all genuinely oven-ready, that’s what we do.
“There was even a long-standing plan for how to respond if the Argentines invaded the Falklands. The only plan we don’t have – this has been a secret until now – is for an asteroid strike. Probably there won’t be a lot we can do.”
Lord Archer was as close to Margaret Thatcher as anyone and he told me she would have seen – particularly after her hard-won negotiations with the EU to improve on the UK’s deal – the economic illiteracy of Brexit.
If she’d have felt uncomfortable with the direction of Boris Johnson’s government, so would Sir Geoffrey Howe. The novelist Hannah Howe, who is a cousin of the former chancellor, has lately been unravelling his family background and discovered his forebears were largely Labour-supporting tinplate workers, farmers and thatchers (yes, honestly).
Hannah says Sir Geoffrey’s extended family, while not largely in tune with him politically, nevertheless respected him as a man of principle. “I’ve no doubt that Geoffrey would have detested Boris Johnson and everything he stands for,” Hannah tells me.
Michael Gove’s role as courtier-in-chief to Rupert Murdoch would appear to be under threat.
New transparency disclosures show chancellor Rishi Sunakmanaged to bag ten audiences with the tycoon’s henchmen and women between January and March, more even than Boris Johnson managed, notching up just two.
The fiercely ambitious Sunak met with, among others, News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks and News Corp CEO Robert Thompson, as well as Victoria Newton, the editor of the ailing Sun.