Diary

For Tories, it's a matter of opinion

Brian Mawhinney (below), the Conservative Party chairman, has hired ICM to carry out opinion polls in the run-up to the election. You know, opinion polls, those things Tories don't believe in because they got it wrong last time. And doesn't ICM sound familiar? Doesn't ICM do polls for the Guardian? Doesn't it also use rival pollster NOP's field force for face- to-face interviews? And doesn't NOP work for the Labour Party? "I think they'll use a different subcontractor for their Tory party work," says a well-placed source.

I hear that some of the Tory campaign team preferred the presentation from Harris, the only other firm to pitch for the work. The team included Sir Tim Bell, Margaret Thatcher's favourite PR man, Peter Gummer, another PR man and brother of the Environment Secretary, Charles Lewington, the new head of communications at Conservative Central Office, and Tim Collins, his predecessor, now a Tory candidate but retained as a consultant by Dr Mawhinney.

Harris offered a new technique called trade-off analysis. This works by offering interviewees choices between "non-ideal scenarios", such as higher taxes or worse schools. This was of course totally unrealistic because under the Tories you can have both. So Dr Mawhinney took the closely- guarded secret decision to hire ICM.

But why them? Could it be that ICM happens to use a technique for adjusting its polling figures which has produced the most pro-Tory results of any of the main polling companies.

Words to the slaughter

The newspeak of Orwell's 1984 lives. At the Select Committee on Agriculture and Health, three gentlemen from the "meat processing industry" were putting up a spirited defence, likening their work to that of the "medical profession". But it was their term for abattoir workers - the chaps who chop up the carcasses - which showed their real mastery of newspeak. They are not slaughterhouse workers, mais non. They are "meat engineers". George Orwell, eat your heart out. So to speak.

Current affairs and a talking princess

I am a little bemused at Martin Bashir's Panorama interview with the Princess of Wales winning the Bafta prize for Best Talk Show. Talk show? Probing, incisive interview with great relevance to the constitution and future of the monarchy, surely. There I was labouring under the delusion that Panorama might want to be considered in the best documentary category, or best factual series. But now we know. Panorama is in fact a talk show, with the biggest budget the BBC has ever given to a talk show. Panorama's editor, Steve Hewlett, tells me: "It wasn't a talk show in the conventional sense, but it's a big prize and we're delighted." If it really was so keen to throw off its current affairs pedigree, then surely it should have entered the Princess of Wales interview under a more appropriate category - best drama? Not quite. Best light entertainment? Almost. Best actress? Aaah.

Emma's 'ere

Who could fail to be impressed with the way Emma Thompson's accent at the Bafta awards had journeyed further down the road towards Bow. Has Emma (below), the proud winner of the Bri'ish film industry's 'ighest haccolade, given in to mob pronunciation? Far from it, according to our friend the Professor of Demotic Linguistics at the University of Neasden.

"The trained ear," he told us, "can tell at once that Miss Thompson's consonantal lacuna in the middle of the word `British' is a long way from being the glottal stop of a dropped `t'. Nor is it the preglottal Teutonic Verschlusslaut, so beloved of Mr Freddie Trueman in the opening aspiration of such words as `Ampshire'. For her, the `t' in `British' is not so much dropped as casually cast aside in what we term `Rada Cockney' and replaced by a gently articulated allophone of a quality that I have detected in only one other speaker."

He paused to give added effect to his final revelation. "I think you'll find, if you listen carefully," he said, "that the sound of Emma's neo- Cockneyite `t' is precisely the same glottal occlusion that comes between `an' and the Bottomley `otel'."

No longer the willing laird

Fancy a fully restored Georgian neo-classical mansion in Dumfriesshire with lovely parkland setting and sporting links? The Olympic gold medal runner Steve Ovett has put his Scottish stately home on the market and is asking pounds 1.3m for it. Kinmount House in Annan was built in 1812 for the Marquess of Queensberry (best known for inventing the rules for boxing) and designed by Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum. It came into Ovett's hands in the mid-Eighties when he bought it for pounds 750,000 from an absentee Australian. Olympic running is, of course, an amateur sport. But Ovett won lucrative contracts for TV work in America following his successes. Eight years and an estimated further pounds 300,000 later he has restored it to American standards - indoor pool, gym, sauna and games room - and an orangery, billiard room, aviary, Italian garden and summerhouse thrown in. The cost of running the house is paid for by a lucrative holiday cottage business in the courtyard that brings in pounds 100,000 a year. Why Ovett decided to go and live in a 10-bedroom house in Scotland is not clear but according to his estate agent, Jamie Macnab, it is no longer practical: "He is very busy travelling, doing commentary and work with the international athletic boards." The future owner can also boast another famous link, although not of the sporting kind. Oscar Wilde was a frequent visitor and it was his association with the Marquess of Queensberry's son, Lord Alfred Douglas, that led to his imprisonment.

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