Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (03/10/10)

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Emily Maitlis, James Naughtie, Carolyn Quinn and Peter Allen were reported to have been among the signatories of a letter from BBC political staff begging fellow workers not to go on strike during the Conservative Party conference, as it would make the BBC look biased. But the Diary has been leaked a copy of the original letter and these four names are not on it. The letter, signed by Nick Robinson, Huw Edwards, Martha Kearney and 29 others, appears to have worked, as the BBC has offered an improved pension deal and the strike has been called off. Despite that, I'm told union hardliners still plan to cold-shoulder those who signed the letter, so presumably they will want to confirm whether or not Naughtie, Maitlis et al among them.

Jeremy Paxman gave Ed Miliband a proper roasting only days after he became Labour leader. "Are you Jewish?" he barked, and: "Do you believe in God?" Miliband fared well, replying with a straightforward "yes" and "no". But then came the question every Daily Mail reader wants answered: "Why have you not married the mother of your children?" Miliband wobbled, muttering that his relationship with Justine was so close that it did not require official sanction. The smart response would have been to toss the question back to Paxo, and ask why on earth he hasn't married Elizabeth Ann Clough, the mother of his three children.

Margaret Drabble, Louise Doughty and Lynn Barber were among the authors who descended on the poor folk of Marlborough last weekend to flog their wares at the town's inaugural literary festival. "I can't think how the town has existed so long without us," babbled novelist and organiser Mavis Cheek in the programme, without a whiff of irony. When Cheek launched the idea in the spring, she vowed there would be no "celebrity publishing", saying: "We're committed to literature and putting writing, rather than celebrity, first. In a world where mass media prevails, it's easy to overlook the value of the well-written word in all its forms, and the importance of those that write." A pity, then, that any locals inspired by the festival to look up these authors' latest works in the library may find themselves cruelly thwarted: Wiltshire Council has just announced a freeze on buying any new books for its libraries. Any, that is, except the "top 10 bestsellers". Drabble, Doughty and Barber are not, currently at least, among them.

As the Duke of Devonshire looks forward to raising a few shekels from this week's attic sale at Chatsworth, neighbouring nobs the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland are making savings by laying off 40 gardeners. Staff at the magnificent gardens at Alnwick Castle are all of a twitter after a consultation process was announced on Thursday to get the headcount down from an astonishing 144. "I had heard that the Gardens were going through difficult times and that they had a disappointing year last year, but I am shocked at the scale of potential job losses," says Gordon Castle, an appropriately named county councillor in the town. Opening hours at the garden are due to be reduced over the winter to just four hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. A shame perhaps, but one can't fault the Duchess's business strategy. "There are more staff on site than visitors some days," sighs my man in the potting shed.

Chinese pianist Lang Lang is no stranger to corporate sponsorship: already in his short and dazzling career he has been an ambassador for Audi, Mont Blanc, Steinway and many other firms. He even holds the title of first Ambassador of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. But his latest deal must be the nattiest of them all: he has become the "global ambassador" for The Langham Hotel in London. Lang Lang of the Langham – a marketing man's wet dream.

David Miliband announced he was stepping down from frontline politics in a letter to his constituency chairman, Alan Donnelly. Apart from being the correct protocol, it was probably not a bad idea if Miliband should ever want to top up his backbench salary. For Donnelly is the immensely rich chairman of Sovereign Strategy, a public affairs firm that advises Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley. Ecclestone's £1m donation to New Labour proved to be Blair's first hiccup, leading him to declare himself "a pretty straight kinda guy". But now, in opposition, it can't do much harm to associate with that lot. Donnelly has already hoovered up long-time Blair ally Lord Cunningham and former MEP Carole Tongue: can Miliband be far behind?

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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