Diary: Battle of the naughty novels

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The Independent Online

There's something strangely familiar-sounding about the novel that Sally Bercow, 5'11", wife of Commons Speaker Senor John Bercow, 5'7" in heels, is said to be circulating to publishers. Mrs Bercow, a first-time fiction writer, has titled her tome Westminster Wives.

It is, reportedly, "a Jilly Cooper-style romp", with characters including unscrupulous MPs, grasping political wives, bothersome hacks and an "all-powerful" Downing Street spin chief. Which all sounds remarkably similar to First Ladies, the soon-to-be-published soft-porn page-turner by celebrity ice dancer and Sky News anchor, Kay Burley.

Burley's book, as this column has noted, concerns a carnally prolific PM, the women who bonk him (including his grasping political wife, and at least one bothersome hack) and his "uber spin doctor". Its blurb describes it as a "cross between The Thick Of It and Jilly Cooper." Both books contain thinly veiled fictional versions of real Westminster figures. Will Bercow's be better? It couldn't be much worse. Still, tread carefully, Sally: Kay has (allegedly) throttled photographers for less.

* Big Ed Balls was recently accused by the Prime Minister, you'll recall, of being "the most annoying man in modern politics" – quite some feat in such a crowded field of contenders. On Friday Nick Ferrari, interviewing Big Ed for LBC radio, gave him the chance to choose his own favourite for the title. Ferrari's suggestions included Messrs Cameron, Cable and Osborne, but Balls baulked at them all (yes, even Osborne). Finally, Ferrari found his man: "Mr Clegg?" he asked. "I've never known a politician to be simultaneously so sanctimonious and be willing to break his promises so outrageously," Big Ed replied. "So probably Nick Clegg is pretty much up there. He said a year ago today... 'We will not raise tuition fees.' He said in Sheffield with a poster, 'Stop the Tory VAT bombshell.' And then he's done both, and he doesn't seem even to recognise why people think, 'Well how did you manage to change your mind quite so radically?' So yeah, he's a bit annoying." Go easy, Balls old chap. Nick's not just a punchbag, you know. He's a human being, with feelings.

* A comi-tragic scene from The Sunday Times Magazine, which sent AA Gill and Rod Liddle to Salford to get a tour of the BBC's new home from Alan Yentob. Yentob, famed for lavish expenses claims and business-class flights (also for his fine programme-making), is now reduced to travelling in second class, even on trains. "I'm not allowed in first class," Yentob complains, as the trio shamble across Euston's unlovely station concourse. "Even if I can get a cheap first-class ticket, I'm not allowed to take it. It sends the wrong signals, apparently. We must be seen to be travelling second class." A shame, as advance first-class tickets to Salford are available for as little as £25 – back in the good old days, Yentob claimed five times that, for a cake.

* And in London, an odd detail at the close of Radio 4's Broadcasting House yesterday. Presenter Paddy O'Connell read the credits, concluding with: "The editor was Ryan Dilley; the intern was his cousin, Jordan Welsh – keeping it in the family." Not an especially politic thing to mention, I suspect, given the controversy surrounding internships last week (for which, again, blame Clegg). Of course, I'm sure that Master Welsh applied for the internship through the Beeb's interminable official channels. While I'm on holiday next week, incidentally, this column will be written by my wayward nephew.

* Much has been made of the PM's choice of a budget airline to fly himself and his lovely wife to Spain for her 40th birthday treat. The decision to subject Samantha to two hours in a sticky back-inducing pleather seat has been spun as an austerity-appropriate rejection of luxury. But even the Blairs were no strangers to a budget airline deal during Tone's time in office. In 2002, for example, they flew from Gatwick to Sharm-el-Sheikh on JMC, Thomas Cook's bog-standard, bucket-and-spade carrier. Blair booked in the normal way, at a "good price" and got no special treatment. Yet more remarkably, I'm told, the plane's staff claimed Cherie was "charm personified" throughout. Of course, the previous year the Blairs had made a similar, much-criticised trip at the expense of the Egyptian taxpayer, which perhaps explains their unexpected magnanimity.