The Feral Beast: Labour eyes up City Hall

Chews up the red carpet
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The Independent Online

It may be three years away, but the next London mayoral election is already preoccupying senior Labour figures. They are determined not to see a third Tory victory in 2016, and are drawing up a longlist of possible candidates, in the hope of getting someone bedded in early. Six names have been floated, with varying degrees of credibility. The front-runners are Tessa Jowell and Sadiq Khan, with David Lammy and Diane Abbott as possible contenders. Outsiders are said to include Siobhan Benita, who ran as an independent last year, and the transport journalist Christian Wolmar, who has never previously expressed any political ambitions. He would, at least, have the advantage of knowing about trains. Benita is away skiing when I call for more details, and a spokesman dismisses the rumour as "completely untrue". Diane Abbott's office meanwhile is more nuanced, saying she "has no plans to run as Labour's candidate, she's focussed on her brief as shadow Public Health minister". That leaves plenty of room for change down the line. A spokesman for Khan, who last month became shadow Minister for London, insists he is focussing on the job in hand. Meanwhile, David Lammy and Tessa Jowell maintain a steely silence. All to play for!

Highly Dave

David Cameron's trip to India has revealed that he has high arches. Images of the Prime Minister walking bare-foot showed what appears to be a pes cavus, which can be hereditary or acquired. People with high arches can "oversupinate" when they walk or run, which makes them more prone to Achilles tendon injuries. A tennis-playing source says the PM was suffering from knee tendonitis only a few months ago, which was stopping him from playing. The good news is that, having high arches is useful for ballet, as it helps to achieve a high demi-pointe. Dave is known to be an enthusiastic dancer, but not of the tippy-toe variety. He prefers charging around to Bennie Hill's "Ernie, The Fastest Milkman in the West".

BBC convert

James Purnell has landed a nice number at the BBC as their so-called director of strategy and digital, salary £295,000. The ex-minister, who worked there before going into politics, says he has got all enthusiastic about broadcasting again. That's not how producers at the BBC remember him: when he was a minister, I'm told he was notorious for never coming on to the Today programme. "He always refused," says a studio worker tasked with holding John Humphrys's leash. Much easier to be enthusiastic from the other side.


Evidence from the Pollard review reveals an astonishing shouting match took place between David Jordan, director of editorial policy and standards, and journalist Meirion Jones, who led the axed Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile. "I was sitting at my desk in the Panorama office at about 17:00 when I heard shouting behind me," recalls Jones. "David Jordan had marched in after his interview with Steve Hewlett on The Media Show … He started shouting at the top of his voice at me. "You are a despicable person, you are a despicable person." I said to him, "You've been lying on behalf of the BBC for three weeks". He then said, "You knew Jimmy Savile was a paedophile for 30 years and did nothing about it". I felt that was one of the most offensive things anyone had ever said about me." Still, it's good to know there's some red blood coursing through those BBC suits.

Bookish biffbat

Literary grandees made their annual pilgrimage to the French Embassy on Wednesday, for the 56th Duff Cooper biography prize. Cooper was British ambassador to France after the war, and the prize is organised by his granddaughter, Artemis Cooper, herself a biographer. Her long-awaited life of the adventurer Patrick Leigh Fermor came out last year, but was not shortlisted, presumably as it might look fishy. Instead, the £5,000 cheque went to Sue Prideaux for her life of Strindberg. Stylishly, she thanked the ambassador in fluent French. Among guests downing Pol Roger was David Campbell, publisher of the Everyman books, who was sporting an alarming black eye. He said it was the result of a cycling accident. But he was full of beans, having just bought the Miklos Banffy trilogy, set in Transylvania, for Everyman. His announcement was a tad undermined when another guest said she had already read the trilogy, when it was published in English by Arcadia in 2004, co-translated by the author's granddaughter, a remark that he chose to ignore.

Faulty formula

Stargazer Brian Cox gave an amusing insight into government thinking at Tuesday's Faraday Prize. Speaking about the decline in science spending, he revealed the response he got from a minister recently. "I won't say who it was, but he said, 'Well, it should be getting better, because we've ring-fenced the science budget and we've reduced GDP.' Which is one way of doing it, I suppose. It wouldn't be mine."

Buying Brontë

A blow for Brontë fans. The house where Anne, Emily, Charlotte and Branwell were born and raised has been sold for a bargain price to an unknown buyer, even though Brontë fans were planning to buy it. The terraced house in Thornton, Yorkshire, where the Brontë family lived for five years before moving to Haworth in 1820, was sold to a couple for £120,000, gazumping the Brontë Birthplace Trust, who had been hoping to convert it into a museum. Bradford Council turned down their application for funding, saying it wouldn't be a good use of money in these austere times. But all is not lost: another Brontë house is also up for sale. Ponden Hall, high up on the moors, is thought to have been the model for Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights, and is Grade II* listed, with eight bedrooms. Trouble is, the asking price is a meaty £950,000. I think we know the council's answer to that.

Court drama

Waspish words from Charles Ward- Jackson, a barrister writing to The Times about the collapse of the Vicky Pryce trial. "I am surprised that Mr Justice Sweeney has not come across more idiotic jury notes," he sniffs. "In my experience it is fairly routine for juries to send notes showing that they have utterly failed to grasp the issues in the case." He goes on to explain why lawyers love the jury system: "For barristers, it is because they enjoy posturing in front of members of the public, [and] jury trials inevitably take longer than trials by judge alone … For judges, it is because the jury absolves them of the tiresome responsibility of making findings of fact." So, barristers are vain and greedy, while judges are lazy. He'll be popular at the bar!

Top Gere evolves in London

Richard Gere is unusually frank about his latest film, Arbitrage, a financial thriller. At Wednesday's premiere in Leicester Square, he said it was "one of the few times when it turns out better than we thought it would". Debut director Nicholas Jarecki, in excitable mood, described Gere as "a truly evolved human being", whatever that means, and used a schoolboy pronunciation when thanking Koch Media. The film has Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter in a cameo role. Jarecki was thrilled to be in London, "a city of culture and criminals, my two favourite things". Well, quite.