Blunkett, the dog that didn't bark
If anyone finds David Blunkett's moral compass, please could you send it back?
In only February, the MP for Hillsborough signed a £49,500 contract with News International to advise it on "social responsibility". A few weeks earlier, as we revealed, he accepted a secret "substantial" pay-off from Rupert Murdoch's company, because his phone was hacked. All this on top of his £65,000 salary for representing the people of Hillsborough, scene of the worst betrayal of civilians by British authorities in recent history. Last week, when the truth about Hillsborough emerged, he said: "One of the lessons that has to come out of this is surely that cover-ups can only cause, and continue to cause, the greatest hurt and harm to those involved, and that in a democracy transparency and openness must be, and always will be, the right way forward to get to the truth." So, how much did Blunkett do to expose the truth? From 2001-04, as Home Secretary, he could have ordered an investigation into the disaster that claimed 96 lives, but didn't. As a columnist on The Sun, the Murdoch title that insulted the dead, he could have called for justice. Can he really advise anyone on "social responsibility"?
Price of fame
Salman Rushdie's account of life under the fatwah, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, hits the bookstores this week. But literary editors and reviewers have felt a bit fatwah-ed themelves by publishers' demands not to disclose its contents. The signing of a non-disclosure agreement for major books is standard practice, but this one says Random House reserves the right to charge €200,000 to anyone they think might have leaked. Cripes! The fine was generously discounted to €175,000 when we questioned the legality of such a clause, but why would anyone sign these documents? Last week it emerged that the publishers of J K Rowling (above) have issued a super-embargo on The Casual Vacancy, her first novel for grown-ups, which binds journalists into not even mentioning the existence of an embargo (oops!). When we asked Little, Brown's lawyers why this was so, they needed a lot of bullying to come up with an answer, and even then didn't answer the question convincingly. When did writers become such tyrants against free speech?
Out, by design
Strange goings-on at the Design Council, the charity and former quango set up by Hugh Dalton during the Second World War. Tony Burton, director of policy, has been made redundant only six months after he was recruited, on the last day of his probation period. The move comes a week after a new chief executive, John Mathers, was appointed. Burton says the two roles were considered too similar, so he had to go. "I have enjoyed my all-too-brief immersion in the design world and am a convert to the power of design thinking," he says. "I am disappointed by the way things have unfolded, having been headhunted just six months ago." Burton is now warning that, without his expertise, the Design Council could lose its "unique position" advising government. "Our access to government, and a lot of the reason people were interested in talking to us, was because we were a cause, a design movement, as well as a consultancy," he told the magazine Building Design. "We were trusted to work even-handedly with any partner. The risk is it becomes just another consultancy trying to make money."
Former SAS author Chris Ryan has an intriguing take on the Annecy killings. Ryan knows the area well, having a house of his own just a few kilometres from where three members of the al-Hilli family were murdered. He says that unless the murderer had put a satellite tracker on their car, he must have been told in advance that the family would be on that remote mountain road: either Saad al-Hilli told someone, or he had a phone call intercepted. And Ryan thinks the make of gun used, a Skorpion, is highly significant. "It's a gun that was much used by the Serb hit squads," he tells me. "Given that there were children involved, this looks very much like a professional job – carried out by a nasty, cold-blooded person who has done it before. The border is so close, the killer could have been in Italy on a motorbike within 40 minutes." Ryan's latest novel, Osama, is about the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Fans of red-haired maidens and heavy curtains are flocking to Tate Britain for its Pre-Raphaelites blockbuster. A hefty catalogue, priced at £25, promises to "be the key work on the Pre-Raphaelites for years to come." Sorry to quibble, but we've already spotted our first howler. In a description of Sir John Everett Millais' famous work The Order of the Release the flowers strewn across the floor are described as buttercups. As any dilettante knows, they are primroses. The picture depicts a Scottish rebel soldier, imprisoned after the Jacobite uprising, weeping as his wife presents him with his order of release. Some say the fallen flowers symbolise a loss of innocence, raising questions about how the wife secured his release. The model for the woman was Effie Gray, wife of John Ruskin, Millais's patron. She later left Ruskin for Millais. The tale has been made into a film, Effie, starring Dakota Fanning and Tom Sturridge, out next year.
No Moore chivalry
Lovable lady's man Roger Moore has knocked together a book to mark 50 years of James Bond. The blurb for Bond on Bond calls him the actor who gave the role "the most panache and charisma". But the old smoothy isn't above making a few catty remarks about Grace Jones. Of A View To A Kill, he says: "I chopped the top off a Renault 11 taxi in the Parisian scenes while trying to chase Grace Jones. Wish I hadn't bothered trying, actually." Elsewhere, he says sex doubles were used in that film. "Well, would you expect me to get into bed with Grace Jones?" And beneath a photo of Jones, of whom Moore once said he "had a genuine dislike", the caption says "she who shall remain nameless". How childish!
Room at the top
Matt Warren, the unladylike editor of The Lady, abseiled down St Pancras station on Friday. The publicity-shy hack, whose stunt came after Prince Andrew's descent of the Shard, was raising money for the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund. But has Matt just dropped into a diplomatic row of his own? He didn't think to tell Harry Handelsman, part-owner of the
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, who lives in one of the luxury flats at the top. "As it is for charity, I suppose I don't mind too much," says Handelsman. "But had I known, I would have asked him to take a bucket and chamois and clean the windows on the way down". Well, domestic staff is what The Lady does best.
Howard's life as an also-ran
Michael Howard has learnt to live with disappointment, never quite making it as PM. Just as well, as the racehorse he co-owns failed to trouble the engravers at yesterday's St Leger Stakes. The former Tory leader was given a 20th share in Guarantee by his wife Sandra for his 70th birthday last year, but the colt came seventh out of nine. Mrs Howard hasn't always been keen on her husband's hobby. "She did not approve of the time I was spending reading the racing columns," said Howard before the race, "but happily in those days the racing in The Times was next to law reports".