With the Lib Dems gaining ground in Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency, seizing control of the council from the Conservatives in the local elections and his seat now looking distinctly precarious, what will become of the Blackadder of British politics?
There were persistent rumours not so long ago that his old mate Rupert Murdoch wanted him to edit the Times, where he had once worked as a gossip columnist and leader writer, but every executive on the paper I talked to said they definitely did not originate with the nonagenarian tycoon, and the position of Tony Gallagher, the current editor, is not in any serious doubt.
Gove has been sucking up to GB News at every opportunity, saying recently the station emphatically shouldn’t be shut down, but it’s hard to see him going there as he isn’t an especially charismatic broadcaster, and Boris Johnson, no great fan of his, would definitely not want him as a fellow presenter.
“My guess is he will head off to academe but whether he will get much of a job there after saying the public are sick of experts remains to be seen,” one of his friends tells me. “Michael’s predicament emphasises the problem a lot of Brexit ultras are going to have finding employment after the next election.”
There may well be more deserving causes, but businessman Jeremy Hosking, worth a reputed £375m, is still bankrolling Laurence Fox’s Reclaim party even after GB News sacked him as a presenter for his vile misogynistic rant against a female journalist.
Latest figures from the Electoral Commission show Hosking has put £3.2m the way of the party, representing almost one third of the staggering £9.5m in political donations made by him. He’s also swelled the coffers of outfits such as Brexit Express and Vote Leave Limited.
He also stumped up £50,000 for the short-lived PM Liz Truss, as well as one-time Tory leadership hopeful David Davis. Hosking made no fewer than 59 donations to Reclaim – 40 non-cash and 19 in cash, amounting to £349,000 and £2.8m respectively, including £275,000 so far this year, £716,000 in 2022 and £1.85m in 2021.
Most of the BBC’s senior foreign correspondents have been sent to cover the Israel/Palestine war. Even its 79-year-old world affairs editor John Simpson has been packed off to Lebanon to report largely for his late night BBC2 show Unspun World. Conspicuous by her absence, however is Orla Guerin, the BBC’s senior foreign correspondent.
Irish-born Guerin certainly knows the territory and the history – she used to be the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent – but the Israeli government has long taken the view that she has “a deep-seated bias” against the country.
“What disturbs me about this war is the voices we are not hearing,” says one of Guerin’s senior colleagues. “In principle, it shouldn’t be up to countries involved in wars to decide who gets to cover them, but this is what is clearly happening here.”
In 2002, the BBC made a formal complaint to the Israeli government when – in an incident captured on film – an Israeli soldier, standing no more than 10 feet away from her, opened fire on her and her crew on the West Bank.
Guerin was redeployed from Jerusalem to South Africa in 2006 and executives at the corporation insisted it was just part of the usual rotation of BBC correspondents. She was, however, allowed to report once again from Jerusalem in 2020, when she returned to file a report on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Influential British Jews, including Lord Michael Grade, former corporation chair and now head of Ofcom; Steven Pollard, the former editor of the Jewish Chronicle; and the literary agent Jonny Geller all criticised her report.
Even on the former Twitter social networking site, Guerin has been reluctant to say anything much about Israel-Palestine.
The revolving door between journalism and politics spins as fast as ever. With Jonathan Isaby, the one-time Daily Telegraph gossip writer, now installed as Liz Truss’s press secretary – and allegedly helping her try to plot her comeback – what of Asa Bennett, who served briefly as her speech writer during her short tenure in No 10?
Mandrake hears Bennett isn’t planning to return to the Telegraph – where he started out, like Isaby – but the Daily Express, where, despite widescale redundancies, a middle management role is being sorted out for him. At the Telegraph, Bennett was the ultimate Brexit fanboy, writing pieces with headlines such as “Boris Johnson can conquer more than Brexit as the new Alexander the Great.”
Sir Will Lewis, when he was editor of the Telegraph, meanwhile, got Isaby to pose in a wet T-shirt for the paper.
Mr Justice Nickin, when he concluded the preliminary hearing into the allegations of privacy breaches made against the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday publishers by Sir Elton John, Prince Harry and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, among others, undertook to come to a decision about whether the case could go ahead as soon as he could.
That was more than seven months ago, which suggests both sides are trying to reach a negotiated settlement rather than allow the matter to go to a long and expensive trial. Mandrake hears the Mail owner Lord Rothermere wants the matter cleared up soonest lest it complicate any bid he makes for the Telegraph titles.
Bill Kenwright, who has died at the age of 78, seldom talked about his politics, but he was a socialist in the best possible sense of the word, helping individuals – not least actors and other creatives struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic – by quietly writing out cheques.
Theatres in London’s West End and across the United Kingdom were bathed in blue light last week to honour him and also his commitment to Everton where he served as chairman. His beloved Theatre Royal Windsor was naturally among them and fittingly the final play he staged – Twelve Angry Men, starring the former Dallas actor Patrick Duffy – began a nationwide tour there.
Kenwright knew the operation he was about to undergo on his liver had a high mortality rate and my guess is he chose the play with some care. “It amounts to the most compelling argument I’ve ever seen made against populism,” he told me when we last met towards the end of the summer. “One man managing to save another man’s life just by not going with the flow and asking questions and arguing his case.”