Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Ready to pre-empt global disappointment

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Is it wrong to pay for sex? This is the question Germaine Greer, Rod Liddle and my colleague Joan Smith will be thrashing out at a sold-out Intelligence Squared debate on Tuesday. But a sub-controversy has emerged which could derail the event. Dame Joan Bakewell had been appointed to chair the debate, coolly to arbitrate while tempers soar. But last week Dame Joan penned a piece for 'The Times' in which she made her own views baldly clear, under the headline "Paying for sex? What's so wrong with that?". Understandably the three panellists for the motion are displeased and are asking for the chairman to be politely asked to stand down. Expect ugly scenes if not.

Boris Johnson wasted no time telling Sir Ian Blair what he thought of him the minute he became chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Sir Ian then spent 24 hours thinking things over before handing in his resignation. But in "thinking things over", Sir Ian took care to ensure that the terms of his departure would be as agreeable as possible. As we know, Sir Ian will wave cheerio to the job next month with a £160,000 pension. But as if that weren't quite enough, I gather he was adamant that he should retain his police allowance to free rail travel for the rest of his life. After some initial squealing, Boris, I gather, grudgingly agreed. All aboard!

Dashing historian Tristram Hunt is one of a number of hip young academics who have made studying cool. So I'm sorry to report he has given dusty old dons in common rooms across the country something to smirk about by making a terrible howler. Writing in a newspaper, Hunt makes reference to "the 1930s Cliveden set... and Hugh Gaitskell's Frognal set of the 1970s". This Frognal set couldn't have been a very lively bunch: Hugh Gaitskell died in 1963.

Obama's victory may have brought joy to many, but spare a thought for rubber chops Rory Bremner. Still struggling to perfect his David Cameron, the impersonator now has an impossible task in Obama. "Doing McCain was easy," he told me. "All you had to was say 'My friends, my friends'. Obama is much, much harder."

High drama at London's Guildhall on Wednesday night when Prince William and 500 guests were told to evacuate a charity banquet. Guests had just finished their medallions of sirloin at the bash in aid of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital and Wellbeing of Women, of which William is a patron, when the hall was cleared. What was odd was that an alarm had been ringing for some time before the evacuation was announced, and rumours soon circulated that the evacuation was a brilliant wheeze to allow the Prince to slope off early, on the grounds of a security threat. But the prince dutifully went back inside, and the whole kerfuffle turned out to have been just a well-timed fag break.

We doff our caps to the Queen, who asked the question nobody has dared ask when visiting the London School of Economics: how come no economist saw the crash coming? Now Gillian Tett, assistant editor of the 'Financial Times' and British Business Journalist of the Year, claims she did predict the crisis. Speaking at the Frontline Club last week, she said she had foreseen disaster in part through her training as a social anthropologist – studying the people of Tajikistan was vital to understanding group behaviour in the City, apparently. If only we had listened to her.

Starchitect Lord Foster is the latest victim of the downturn. Developers in Weston-super-Mare have decided to ditch his firm's plans for the Royal Pier Hotel project, a complex of luxury flats, bars and restaurants. To make matters worse, arch rival Conran and Partners has been brought in to take over. Lord Foster's original appointment a year ago was hailed with a media fanfare, but events since have required a scaling-down. Lord Foster had been asking for a £1.5m fee, which might now seem a little optimistic.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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