Diary: Ken backs out of Press gang
Friday 28 January 2011
Ken Livingstone, Labour's candidate for London Mayor, is parting ways with Press TV, the English-language news channel funded by the Iranian government. Livingstone has filmed a series of seven monthly book review shows, but claims he'd never planned any further programmes for the channel, which many consider a mere mouthpiece for beige-loving Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Unkind commentators suggest Ken's announcement came coincidentally close behind news that NatWest has frozen the channel's British trading account, thus preventing any payments to its contributors. I, for one, prefer to imagine he was following the lead of this column's favourite Estonian (I only know the one) glamour model-bothering ex-MP for Montgomeryshire, Lembit Opik, who – as I exclusively revealed some months ago, though it went bafflingly unreported elsewhere – left Press TV so as to sever any "controversial links" prior to his own proposed campaign for the mayoralty. Expect to see Ken on Celebrity Come Dine With Me in the very near future.
* When the Prime Minister made a crack at the Commons press gallery lunch, comparing Cuban-heeled Speaker of the House Señor John Bercow to one of the seven dwarfs, he was accused of harassment by a primordial dwarfism charity. This week's guest of honour at said lunch was Vince Cable, whom, given his recent unfortunate indiscretions, one would expect to be somewhat tight-lipped around journalists these days. Not a bit of it, apparently. In fact, the Business Secretary amused his hack hosts with this inadvisable corker: "What's the difference between a dead cat on the motorway and a dead banker? There are skid marks around the cat." Mr Cable is currently in talks with the banks about cutting their bonuses. At least, he was at the time of writing.
* For the first time, Man Booker Prize judges are to be issued with e-readers ahead of the judging process, in the interests of preventing backache among the panel, who are tasked with reading (and, therefore, carrying) more than 100 novels of varying weight before the longlist is announced in July. Publishers, the organisers tell me, will be asked to submit their 2011 titles for consideration in both digital and physical form. The judges (Stella Rimington, Susan Hill, Matthew D'Ancona, Gaby Wood and Chris Mullin) will be given both books and e-books to choose from. Practical, certainly – but somewhat prejudiced against those of us who prefer to judge books by their covers.
* While being jostled from all sides by fellow guests in expensive designer garb at the InStyle Best of British Talent Party at Shoreditch House, I ran into Sporty Spice, now plain Melanie Chisholm. Whom are you wearing, Mel, I asked (as one does). "Asos," she replied. "It's got big shoulders. I like that." Proof that she always was the normal one.
* Disappointing news for anyone who put money on Ian Birrell (at 5-1, say), this newspaper's former deputy editor, to replace Andy Coulson at No 10. Birrell has slipped from front-runner to also-ran, with Cameron's current press secretary, Gabby Bertin, and the BBC's Old Etonian deputy political editor, James Landale, pulling ahead at Smarkets.com (the politicos' preferred bookie shop). Still, fingers crossed, Ian. You never know: somebody, somewhere might stand to win £60 if you get the gig.
* More from Crispin Mount: recycling sceptic, amateur scourge of South-western Tories, proud leader of 14 Twitter followers and my investigative correspondent for the Cotswolds. "The latest propaganda missive from the Tory dystopia of Cotswold District Council (CDC), about how great their public toilets are, put me on the scent of something," Crispin tantalisingly relates. "Evadne (my lady wife) and I were enjoying a day in Stow-on-the-Wold and, being of a certain age, she had to spend 20p to 'spend a penny'. Evadne chided me for pronouncing the 20p fee a '2,000 per cent local Tory tax', but became more interested when, upon returning home, I did some 'Googling' and discovered that the subcontractor for all CDC public toilets was a company called Healthmatic Ltd. Healthmatic just happens to be owned by Tory Wiltshire Cllr Roger 'Chuck' Berry – which raises the question: 'Whose ding-a-ling was pulled to get that particular contract?'"
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