MANDRAKE: Today show's favour to Conrad Black

PUBLISHED: 20:00 24 May 2019 | UPDATED: 08:10 25 May 2019

Editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme Sarah Sands speaks to a live audience at Wigmore Hall. Picture: PA

Editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme Sarah Sands speaks to a live audience at Wigmore Hall. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Today editor Sarah Sands repays debt to former Telegraph chief, Nigel Farage all powerful as boss of the Brexit Party Ltd, BJ4PM won't end well and will it be July 15 when Theresa May finally goes?

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Lord Heseltine departs after a visit to 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.Lord Heseltine departs after a visit to 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Sarah Sands, the editor of the Today programme, was a favourite of Conrad Black during his period in charge of the Telegraph Group, so it was inevitable that she would offer her old mentor the chance to boast about his controversial pardoning by Donald Trump for fraud and obstruction of justice. The old jailbird's affable chat with John Humphrys took an unexpected turn, however, when the presenter innocently inquired how he was occupying his time these days. "It's no one's business but mine," Black retorted, angrily.

He would say only that what he was doing had nothing to do with newspapers, but a look at the Companies House website would appear to contradict that. It currently lists his sole directorship on these shores as the ailing Catholic Herald. An update expected to go up shortly will, however, show that Black has lately transferred his 47.5% holding in the company in equal shares to the colourful former Tory MP Brooks Newmark and the thrice-married publisher William Cash, the son of the Brextremist MP Sir Bill Cash.

The newspaper's circulation - which peaked at 100,000 in the 1950s - is now down to 20,000 and its latest figures show a loss of £124,000 on turnover at £1.9 million in the year ended December 2017 - more than three times up on the £34,510 lost in 2016. Overall, it's carrying £262,122 in accumulated losses.

One reason the newspaper may be struggling is the pro-Brexit pieces it's been running, and the disclosure that, just before Christmas, three of its directors - the hotelier Sir Rocco Forte, who holds the controlling interest in the title, along with Newmark and the magazine's editor Damian Thompson - had met with the former Breitbart boss and Trump aide Steve Bannon. Despite its losses, the newspaper has lately taken a 64% stake in a new American offshoot called Catholic Herald USA Inc, which is incorporated in Delaware.

Conrad Black. Picture: Randy Risling/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesConrad Black. Picture: Randy Risling/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Terminator

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The doughty Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder is pressing Antonio Tajani, the president of the European parliament, to investigate why Nigel Farage didn't declare the £450,000 he pocketed from Arron Banks in the year after the referendum to pay for his London home, his car and his trips to America to see Donald Trump.

Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA WirePrime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire

Farage last declared any outside earnings in 2017, but, while he may have been slow keeping up with the paperwork in this regard, he has been busily updating the status of the Brexit Party, the limited company set up earlier this year. Earlier this month, the company declared Farage to be a person who had "significant control" over it and said "he has the right, directly or indirectly, to appoint or remove a majority of the board of directors of the company". Two directors have already had to be terminated, including Catherine Blaiklock and Michael McGough, after it was found that they had both made controversial comments online.

Tipping point

Lord Heseltine's decision to vote Lib Dem in the EU elections - in the shape of his local candidate Bill Newton Dunn, amusingly the father of the Sun's political editor, Tom - shows the extent to which the Tory party is lurching ever further to the right.

Certainly, when I interviewed Heseltine last spring, his fundamental loyalty to his party was not in doubt, but clearly he saw a great many of his red lines crossed in the intervening period. I have no doubt that Boris Johnson's installation as prime minister - he's the current favourite - would be too much for a great many others. Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, told me such an eventuality would "doom" the party. Steve Norris, the amiable former transport minister, put it like this: "Johnson is the only MP who, if elected PM, would cause me to leave the Tory party. Everybody likes him except the people who know him. Total chancer who doesn't read his papers. Cynical and self-indulgent."

Leaving date

Mystic Mandrake predicts that Theresa May will step down as prime minister on Monday July 15. "She wants to be able to say she's survived in the job for three years and that milestone comes on Saturday July 13 and so she will go on the first weekday after that," says a senior Tory of my acquaintance. The date may not, of course, turn out to be a matter for her to pick.

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