The Independent | Diary

Andy McSmith's Diary: Hedge funds, the Tories’ cash cow, eagerly repay favours

A measure in George Osborne’s 2013 Budget which made no headlines outside the financial pages was the abolition of stamp duty reserve tax on UK-domiciled asset management funds. That may not sound like an attention grabber, but it was manna for Britain’s hedge-fund bosses, who by the Government’s estimate saw £145m drop off their companies’ collective annual tax bill.

Andy McSmith's Diary: One sympathetic Tory sought to co-write leader’s biography

Of all the people David Cameron might choose to write his biography, Michael Ashcroft must surely be near the bottom of the list.

The Feral Beast: Monty Don's moans, love and loot, Korean cuisine and Foot and footie

Monty Don has become something of a Marmite figure among gardeners, not least on social media. We recently pointed out some of his howlers, and the blogosphere is full of comments calling him "arrogant" and "condescending".

Andy McSmith's Diary: Defenders of the vulnerable - salute the Commons’ dullest committee

In an obscure corner of the parliamentary process sits a committee called the Statutory Instruments Joint Committee.

Andy McSmith's Diary: The man who didn’t hate Britain but did kill a cat

Ed Miliband has won an unexpected gong at the annual Spectator political awards for his speech to this year’s Labour Party conference. Unexpected because the magazine’s editor, Fraser Nelson, thought that the speech was constructed around “a dangerous principle, dug out of its 1970s grave and held up for applause”.

Andy McSmith's Diary: It may not be Old Trafford but the Reds usually score in 'Cameron Time'

It is a long time since there has been a Speaker of the House of Commons as intensely disliked by ministers as the incumbent, John Bercow. After years of grumbling and complaining in Parliament’s corridors and cafés, no less a figure than the deputy Chief Whip, Greg Hands, has gone public to vent the business managers’ frustration about Bercow’s practice of allowing Prime Minister’s Questions to carry on past its allotted half hour. “PMQs getting like Old Trafford. 5 minutes extra time in the hope that the Reds can score a late equaliser,” he tweeted.

Andy McSmith's Diary: Magnitsky's law will be the legacy he deserved

Our man in Westminster

The Feral Beast: Barbican brouhaha, lordly loves, artistic licence and Alan Bennett's secret skills

Awkward scenes at the Barbican on Thursday, when Peter Tatchell got on stage to denounce Valery Gergiev as a friend of Vladimir Putin. Moments before the start of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, the gay rights activist gave a speech condemning the Russian conductor, who had yet to appear, for siding with Putin against Pussy Riot, and for "defending the new homophobic law that persecutes gay Russians". The imperious 60-year-old conductor is finding it increasingly difficult to perform without being ambushed. Only last month, activists surprised him at the Carnegie Hall in New York, and again at the opening of Eugene Onegin at the Met. There's even an article in this week's New Yorker titled "The problem with Valery Gergiev". Gergiev has been a fan of Putin since he was the deputy mayor of St Petersburg, where Gergiev presides over the Mariinsky Theatre. Tatchell's protest was particularly ingenious: as he was wearing a tuxedo; the audience assumed he was a Barbican official, and it was some time before anyone bundled him off stage. I'm told two gentlemen from the percussion and brass sections eventually took it upon themselves to move him on. Gergiev conducted as if nothing had happened, and security swarmed during the interval, somewhat after the event.

The Feral Beast: Batons at, dawn, beans brouhaha, language lessons and the nervous earl

Senior women from the world of classical music held an extraordinary meeting yesterday to discuss how to tackle Vasily Petrenko. The 37-year-old Russian conductor caused outrage last month by saying men made better conductors, because orchestras "react better when they have a man in front of them". Now, some musicians are reluctant to work with him, and others feel more needs to be done to counteract the gender imbalance among conductors.

Andy McSmith's Diary: Princely profile fails to fill perception gap

Our man in Westminster

The Feral Beast: How to dress like a TV presenter, talk like Andrew Mitchell and play like a football manager

Jeremy Paxman has found expression through his beard. But what's with Gavin Esler and those jumpers? He hosted Newsnight on Friday wearing two pieces of avant-garde knitwear, in an apparent response to the Prime Minister's advice that we should all wear a woolly indoors. The first sported polar bears, the second was red, with a reindeer motif. All very jolly, but Esler insists they are not from his own wardrobe. "Newsnight fashion editor and zeitgeist-watching staff chose the jumper", he reassures me. "I assume they picked acrylic as a style statement but it's not really my area of expertise".

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