After the New European’s “Stop This Boat” front page in August, which showed Baroness Michelle Mone aboard her Lady M yacht, the Tory peer threatened to sue this newspaper for defamation. We politely told her to sail on.
The lingerie magnate has been on a “leave of absence” from the Lords for more than a year while an investigation took place over her links with a company that she helped win UK government contracts during the pandemic. She initially lied to multiple journalists about her involvement with PPE Medpro, now being sued by the UK government for £122m plus costs for “breach of contract and unjust enrichment”.
Mone has now broken her public silence on the matter by making a YouTube documentary of which she says: “My husband and I have been used as a scapegoat by the government for their own failings on PPE procurement. This new documentary will begin to tell the truth about this scandal.” Viewers are advised to fast-forward to the credits, which contain the message “This programme was funded by PPE Medpro”.
Meanwhile, the controversial Lady M yacht – which Mone has denied owning despite its name – is up for sale via Fraser’s, which describes itself as managing “a broad portfolio of immensely valuable yachts, superyachts and megayachts”. For anyone lucky enough to win the lottery, or a series of lucrative PPE contracts, it is available for £6,820,000.
Without any great fanfare, Rishi Sunak personally picked Sir Tim Laurence, the husband of Princess Anne, to take over as chair of the Science Museum in the New Year. Although Laurence has dutifully busied himself with public service since retiring from the navy – including chairing English Heritage – his expertise in the world of science has not previously been obvious.
Mandrake hears, however, that the prime minister has his own agenda with regard to this seemingly eccentric appointment, and, even with the multiple crises currently stacking up in his inbox, he managed to find the time to invite the somewhat bemused 68-year-old Laurence to Downing Street to offer his congratulations.
“Rishi is desperate to ingratiate himself to the royal family after falling out so publicly with King Charles over climate change and the Elgin Marbles,” one Downing Street insider tells me. “Interestingly, Rishi isn’t himself all that bothered about his relationship with Charles – indeed, he was furious with him for wearing a tie that looked very much like the Greek flag at the height of the Elgin Marbles row – but he is acutely conscious that his father-in-law NR Narayana Murthy is a staunch monarchist.”
The Indian business tycoon’s billions have helped to make the prime minister and his wife Akshata richer than King Charles, but Narayana Murthy’s approval can never be taken for granted. “Narayana Murthy is the one man Rishi has always felt the need to impress, and, of course, the old boy can see even from India that his son-in-law is not making a huge success of the job of being prime minister. A massive supporter of the royal family along with so many of his compatriots, it displeased him greatly to read Rishi had also managed to fall out with the King.”
The Science Museum is the one British museum or arts organisation which still takes sponsorship money from oil and fossil fuel firms, including BP and Adani, a huge coal mining firm. The King is no fan, I gather, of the Science Museum’s long-time director Sir Ian Blatchford, who has overseen these sponsorship deals. Don’t be surprised if Blatchford’s days are numbered after the king’s brother-in-law formally takes charge.
Startlingly, the Daily Mail chose not to go big on its columnist Boris Johnson’s “fuck you, Daily Mail” outburst that came to light during the Covid inquiry. In September 2020, Sir Patrick Vallance, then chief scientific adviser to Johnson, noted that the PM voiced this profanity out of frustration with the paper for being so disparaging of his “rule of six,” which meant no more than six people could gather together in one place.
The Mail found all of this abhorrent because, as I reported around that time, its owner Lord Rothermere, who makes much of how he never interferes in editorial content, had been opposed to the lockdowns and the subsequent rules as they were impacting on his exhibitions business and the daily commutes on which his Metro titles in particular depended.
Rothermere takes criticism of his flagship title very much to heart, and with Johnson’s mentor Paul Dacre heading off for a long sojourn at his British Virgin Islands estate, the mind-numbingly dull Boris Johnson column looks more vulnerable than ever.
Incidentally, Johnson’s attempts to feign ignorance over the workings of WhatsApp – and how 5,000 messages from the period when the pandemic was beginning somehow managed to disappear from his phone – has not impressed a spook of my acquaintance. “What Johnson can’t say is that he was told WhatsApp was not secure and instructed not to use it, that he’d been provided with an alternative that he didn’t use and was chided by the Security Services and his one-time ethics adviser Lord Geidt for not using it and for not directing the entire cabinet to switch over, too.”
Happily holding forth on the airwaves about how we can deport more migrants – the last thing he would want to do is talk about his brief as levelling up secretary given the current levels of child poverty – Michael Gove is being conspicuously loyal to Rishi Sunak.
I wrote the other day I’d heard he was thinking about setting up a public relations business with his ex-wife Sarah Vine if he loses his Surrey Heath seat in the next election, but what if he somehow scrapes through? One old Tory backbencher, noting how loyal Gove had once been to David Cameron and Boris Johnson, bet me a tenner that he’ll be first to throw his hat into the ring as Sunak’s successor. “He doesn’t get how universally despised he is and still hasn’t given up on his dream of being PM,” my informant chortles.
It was at best a forlorn hope under this government that the BBC would end up with a stridently independent chair after the debacle of Richard Sharp – the loan arranger to the then prime minster Boris Johnson before he got found out – and Samir Shah looks unlikely to impress.
“Some of us with long memories recall what a creep Sami was when he worked in the 80s and 90s for John Birt, first at London Weekend Television and then at the BBC,” one broadcasting veteran tells me. “We called him Birt’s little handmaiden, unquestioningly carrying out his boss’s orders.”
Shah followed Birt from LWT to the BBC in 1987. There Shah was appointed head of TV current affairs and then boss of all political journalism. The former Panorama reporter Tom Bower remembered what it was like working for Shah. “He was a goon,” he wrote in an article 20 years ago commemorating half a century of the programme. “Shah eagerly replaced story-based Panoramas with lectures on the issues of the day, which had been personally approved by his leader, John Birt.”