Diary: Rupert speaks – and the Tories lap it up

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The Independent Online

Doing time inevitably dulls the sensibilities and sours the sweetest of natures, so forgive Conrad Black if bitterness seasons the transition back to freedom. It isn't easy, how-ever, because his attack on Rupert Murdoch, in a book review, is disgraceful. Connie not only refers to Rupert's "orange-dyed hair" (long since shaved off) and his "coarse sense of humour", but describes him as "monotonous as a public speaker".

Preposterous. If Rupert isn't the most charismatic orator since Hitler, what on earth lured so many Tory Cabinet ministers to his inaugural Margaret Thatcher Lecture in London on Thursday? Present to hear dear old Davros laud the assault on welfare and the purity of his staff's journalistic methods (see below) were Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa May and Lady Warsi. Also present was the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. If this seemed bold while his colleague Vince Cable, a curious absentee, struggles with whether to block Rupert's plan to take a 100 per cent stake in BSkyB, let us make this plain on Jeremy's behalf. His attendance was not intended to signal that government media policy and Rupert's ambitions are one and the same. He was there solely to take Rupert aside and whisper: "Look, guv'nor, in the light of George's crackdown on corporate tax avoidance, we really must ask you to pay more than 17 shillings, sixpence ha'penny corporation tax on your profits next year. Do you think you might see your way clear to coughing up a couple of grand?

* If Jeremy has already done Rupert's bidding as regards the BBC, of course, the Beeb's rearguard fight for public sympathy began well. How cunning on Wednesday to preface coverage of the spending review, in which its 16 per cent budget cut was announced, with aerial pictures of Parliament. We've already pared expenditure to the bone, was the subliminal message there. Are we now to be forced to jettison the overhead helicopter shots without which a story like this one wouldn't make an iota of sense?

* Meanwhile, Rupert's Times runs an intriguing profile of Glenn Beck, one of his more prized assets as Fox News's lachrymal prophet of apocalypse. The one thing missing from Mark Leibovich's piece was any mention that it appeared a month ago in The New York Times. This seemed odd. Then again, considering that the NYT has done more than any British paper to collar the News of the World and Andy Coulson over the hacking of mobiles, the usual copyright line might have looked weirder still.

* Concerns mount for Nick Robinson after the BBC's political editor stamped an anti-war placard – waved behind him during a broadcast – half to death. Like another Nick – the Deputy PM who melted hearts on Desert Island Discs yesterday by admitting to struggling with his conscience over the spending cuts he so zealously supports – Ragin' Robbo was a Tory at university, and so must take more care not to betray partisanship. If he hasn't taken his flame-thrower to a pro-war placard by mid-November, I'll buy him a place on the James Murdoch Residential Anger Management Course (senior lecturer: Adam Boulton) for Christmas.

* In the first instalment of the new, austerity-age feature Pretentious Plutocratic Parsimony, we turn to Dasha Zhukova. Roman Abramovich's partner has the run of the world's two largest yachts, while he has spent tens of millions on artwork for her gallery in Moscow. "What's your biggest extravagance?" Dasha was asked by the Financial Times. "Walking barefoot," she replied.

* Tremendous relief at Nadine Dorries' exoneration over charges of expenses dodginess. The Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire got off after persuading the standards commissioner that her blog, in which she revealed spending less time at her constituency home than the relevant claims suggested, was 70 per cent fiction. "I would also like to state," ran a triumphalist entry posted on Saturday, "that every word written on my blog is absolutely true." Nadine is shaping into the most entrancing backbencher since the great Helen Brinton, and we wouldn't be without her for the world.