Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (05/09/10)

Starts the new term in a class of its own

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Will Gordon Brown go to the Labour Party conference? Sources close to the ex-PM tell me he will not be speaking, and may even not bother attending. As a backbench MP there is no obligation to appear, and MPs become rather unimportant during conference season, compared with, say, trade unionists. The new leader will be announced on the Saturday before conference begins, three weeks today, so Brown's support will be irrelevant. Being a ditherer he may not have decided, and he could make a last-minute demand to speak. After all, who can say no to Gordon?

Good news for anyone else going to conference: a ban has been imposed on leaflet distributors. Anyone wishing to promote their boring little fringe meeting must now pay to get a space in the Soviet-sounding Labour Party Official Leaflet Distribution Area. Organisers say, "This is the ideal opportunity to reach a wider audience." Except that any normal person will be steering well clear.

The BBC has been kind to Chris Mullin, giving his new volume of diaries masses of airtime. It was Book of the Week on Radio 4, beating Mandelson and Blair's efforts, and Mullin was given a slot with John Humphrys on Today . Alas, Mullin has not been so kind, at least not to Humphrys, who comes in for three drubbings in the book. "JH was at his hectoring worst," reads one, describing him as "reeking of Daily Mail outrage". Mullin adds he was "tempted to order a keel-hauling". Another likens Humphrys to Richard Littlejohn, and a third that he should "get out more". I'm told Humphrys was furious, but gave Mullin an easy ride, presumably to show he can "do" nice.

How did Tony Blair feel about having eggs thrown at him in Dublin yesterday? You only have to turn to his new book to find out: when it happened to John Prescott, Tony wept with laughter. "The thing was extraordinarily funny," he writes. "The egg was funny. The mullet was funny. The left hook was funny. The expressions on both their faces were funny." But Cherie won't be pleased by Tony's response. (He refrained from punching the protester.) "Well, what would you have done?" she challenged Tony at the time of Prescott's fracas. "Put on one of your smiles and ask him not to do it again? He got what he deserved. John's just a man." What does that make Tony?

The death of Liberal MP Cyril Smith, the fattest man in politics, drew all the predictable tributes. "A larger than life politician," said Nick Clegg, while The Independent called him a "a true political giant". All this reminds us of the graffiti once etched in a lift in the Houses of Parliament. Under the sign reading "Carries 8 people" someone had written "or one Cyril Smith".

Anecdotes of British culture being rebranded for the American market are legion – The Madness of George III became 'The Madness of King George' in case thickies wondered what happened to Parts I and II. But it still came as a shock to the historian Brian Landers when a vital swathe of his book 'Empires Apart', a comparison of America and Russia, was cut for the US version, to avoid hurting American sensibilities. "It's not anti-American," he tells me, "but they didn't like the parallels I drew with Russia. Funnily enough there's a bit where I compare the way the two countries treat dissidents: in Russia they put them in mental asylums or shoot them; in America they just don't publish them."

Much excitement over the new face of Burberry, 16-year-old Nina Porter, who has replaced Emma Watson, dropped last month for being too old – at 20. News of Porter's appointment caused consternation in some quarters: not only is she pretty but she also Has a Brain. (She scored six A*s and five As at GCSE, we were told.) Porter has been modelling for two years and has been photographed by Mario Testino, Princess Diana's favourite snapper. I can reveal a further Diana link: her father Neil is one half of landscape architects Gustafson Porter, responsible for the blighted memorial fountain in Hyde Park. On second thoughts, she'd probably rather we kept quiet about that.

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