Diary: Martin rings his own bell
Wednesday 06 April 2011
Former war correspondent and erstwhile independent MP Martin Bell, a man so squeaky clean that he hasn't changed his suit in at least 15 years, is to release a book of autobiographical poetry. The collection of "light and dark" verse, due to be published in December, will take the same name as a novel by – who else? – Ernest Hemingway: For Whom The Bell Tolls. Neil Hamilton, against whom Bell stood at the 1997 election, once described his rival as, "A pompous, humourless man... in love with his own ego." But then, that was Neil Hamilton. So don't take his word for it.
* Total Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt clearly favours the Blair-patented Masochism Strategy. Not content to be despised by the arts community alone, he's on his way to acquiring a refereeing qualification, which would make him one of the least-liked men in football, too. On Monday, as part of his training course, he watched QPR's 3-0 defeat of Sheffield Utd with the good folk of White City. Hunt, who didn't even know the offside rule when he took office, is not keen to advertise the date or location of his first game in charge, but the DCMS press office reassures me that it will be "a juniors game". At least (as Messrs Marr and Naughtie will attest) he's accustomed to being sworn at.
* For departing MPs, the customary "resettlement grant" is a pleasant financial boost. The Leicester Mercury has learnt that among the 220 MPs to claim said grant after the last election (of an eligible 225) was the one-time health secretary and ex-member for Leicester West Patricia Hewitt. Hewitt claimed a £54,403 golden handshake: enough for 457 trouser presses, 33 duck houses or 100,000 Kit-Kat Chunkies. Also happy to accept their leaving present were her chums Stephen Byers and Geoff Hoon, which must go some way to making up for all those lobbyists' fees they won't be seeing any longer.
* A schism at The Guardian, where campaigning environmental writer George Monbiot has experienced a blinding conversion on the road to Sellafield. After witnessing the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, the characteristically contrary Monbiot declared himself a firm supporter of nuclear power (he was previously, he says, "nuclear-neutral"). This makes him the most influential green to, as it were, "go nuclear"; it also puts him at odds with his paper's orthodoxy, and environmental editor John Vidal duly denounced him – and other "green cheerleaders" – for preaching their heretical new dogma. Yesterday came a Monbiot counter-attack, in which he described a Vidal-endorsed anti-nuclear book as displaying "the habits of climate change-deniers" – quite the dirtiest term in the green dictionary. The environmental community is captivated. Treehuggers, so accustomed to certainty, don't know which way to turn. "It's remarkable," another leading expert tells me. "Like watching a reactor go out of control."
* Educationalist Toby Young says he's "retired" the gauche persona on which he built his early career, so as to maintain the credibility of his West London Free School. (He's setting up a school. You've probably read about it.) In honour of his former self, then, let's once more revisit Young's pre-sensible years, and the teenage letter that boasts of his lefty-baiting. At the first meeting of his all-male political discussion society The Young Apostles, he was confronted by "saggy-titted" feminists. "Naturally," the young Young relates, "they weren't prepared to listen to my arguments about the genetic character traits of women and just ranted and raved about 'fascism'. They claimed they were just as intelligent as any 'men' so I offered to administer IQ tests from the book Know Your Own IQ. They wouldn't even comply to this reasonable request, so I was forced to enlist the services of the local constabulary in order to disperse them."
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