Matthew Norman on Monday: The man who could do a great job as royal envoy to Syria

Matthew Norman

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The Independent Online

As she reflects on her 60 years as Queen, does anything delight Her Maj more than the memory of having President Assad to tea? Such happy times and not so long ago ... December 2002, to be exact, when Mr Tony Blair fixed the Buckingham Palace tea party as part of his strategy of cajoling despots to forsake brutality.

Yet however well this worked with Libya, it appears not quite to have done the trick in Syria, so I have this suggestion for the monarch. Send the lovable lobbyist Lord Tim Bell to Damascus as a royal envoy. Dear old Bell-End, as he styles himself in Burke's, has a special relationship with Assad and his missus, the London-born Asma, who once retained him to mould her image.

"We ... did speech writing and set up interviews with serious media," Tim recalled, although he is thought to have steered her on the fluffier path towards a flattering Vogue profile ... one in which Asma expressed the will to encourage Syria's young towards "active citizenship".

Few of our leading parliamentarians have a personal relationship with the Assads, so it seems madness not to utilise Bell-End either as negotiator or possibly hostage. He's had a miserable time of it since the revelations about his firm's work laundering gruesome reputations.

Hurrah, hurrah, redemption is at hand.


It's not British to bribe India

Fears mount that Paul Dacre, mannerly editor of the Daily Mail, struggles to grasp the altruistic principle behind foreign aid. "Well that's gratitude!" ran a catchy headline last week. "We give India £1bn in aid. THEY snub us and give France a £13bn jet contract." Paul is reminded that it is not the British way to bribe the Indians to buy our fourth-rate military hardware. That's what we do with the Saudis.


Will Sweep be the new broom at BBC?

The first show of betting on Mark Thompson's successor as BBC director-general sees internal candidates dominating the market.

George Entwistle, the Beeb's "director of vision" (though unlike Mr Assad, not an opthamologist) is the 100-30 favourite, with chief operating officer Caroline Thomson next at 9-2. On sixes are BBC North boss Peter Salmon and hurricane-denier Michael Fish, with director of news Helen Boaden on 17-2. Pam Ayres is available at 9s "with a run", not to mention with a rhyme: "I was sitting in me garden with a lovely cup of tea. When that nice Lord Patten rang, and said 'Pam, wanna be D-G?'."

Youthful BBC1 controller Danny Cohen and Sooty sidekick Sweep are both 12-1, ITV boss Peter Fincham is an 18-1 chance, and Quentin Letts and Strictly's Bruno Tonioli are among a host of runners on 25s. It's 33-1 bar the above, with director of pithy questioning Jim Naughtie looking the each-way value at 125-1.


Spurs chairman would be a good head teacher

From the politico-football interface comes a report that Michael Gove is talking to Tottenham Hotspur about London's finest hosting one of his free schools. I must say that this seems apt, what with Spurs' Daniel Levy being the only club chairman with a Cambridge First, albeit in Land Economy.

Dan would make a terrific head teacher, though future pupils are advised to watch themselves because, despite the cutely pointy-headed appearance, he will brook no insolence. As someone once excluded from White Hart Lane for affectionate teasing, I can vouch for that.


America beckons an intellectual giant

Less happily on the academic front, the titan whom Govey once tapped up in vain to produce his history syllabus appears poised to leave us. Niall Ferguson, supposedly the model for Alan Bennett's amusingly meretricious teacher in The History Boys, means to emigrate to the US because he finds Blighty cerebrally beneath him. One could apportion the individual blame for this humiliating turn of events, but we are collectively responsible for failing to sate such a staggeringly powerful intellect. Shame on us all.


Why stop at Hadrian's Wall?

Despite the high stakes, the Tories bravely resist the temptation to plant idiotic Scottish independence scare stories in friendly titles. All the reporting has been scrupulously honest so far, with the Mail on Sunday warning yesterday that "a Hadrian's Wall style border" will be needed, should the Scots choose to break up the Union, "to stop illegal immigrants flooding into England". You'd have thought something more like the Berlin Wall would be needed, with hordes of kilt-wearers picked off by snipers, but perhaps that's me being hysterical.