Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (18/07/10)

A writer, not a quitter

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Political hack Philip Webster gave Peter Mandelson's book a glowing review in yesterday's
Times (well, they did serialise it), saying it "reshapes our perception" of the past 13 years.
The Third Man also, er, rather reshapes history by omitting to mention several key people. There's no sign of Gaddafi's son, whom Mandy met in Corfu and with whom he attended a shooting party at Waddesdon (and who presumably knows a bit about oil and Megrahi's release); no mention of his friend Lord Browne, former boss of BP (ditto); no mention of Peter Ashby, his former lover who turned straight, with whom he spent many happy days at his Herefordshire cottage; no mention of Harry Blackwood, the editor of the
Hartlepool Mail, whose removal he is alleged to have engineered. There's even no mention of Patrick Wintour, Mandelson's go-to
Guardian reporter.

There was also a curious omission in yesterday's interview with Mandy by Matthew Norman in the Telegraph. The journo – whose relationship with Mandy has had its bilious moments – told the story of the time Mandelson dropped in at Norman's home and availed himself of a substantial dinner. At the end of the meal, Mandelson spotted some colourful magnets on the fridge and asked. "Are there children in the house?" Norman, quick as a flash, replied: "You're not still hungry, are you?"

Mandy's book launch at the Royal Festival Hall was also noticeable for absent friends – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – but he managed to dominate parties elsewhere across town that night. In the more cosseted surroundings of Mark's Club, where Bret Easton Ellis was launching a novel, style guru Peter York and art consultant Bettina Von Hase recalled Mandelson as a retiring young junior when he worked for them at SRU management consultancy in the early 1990s. "Losing the moustache was the best thing that happened to Peter," said York, "you can trace his ascent from the minute he shaved it off".

Hampstead MP Glenda Jackson has swung into action after scraping a 42-seat majority. After being dubbed London's "laziest MP", the Oscar-winning former actress has rekindled her enthusiasm for politics, leaping up in debates, attending committees, signing Early Day Motions and even getting izzy-wizzy by joining Facebook to reach voters. Some say the 74-year-old has found being in opposition invigorating, joking that she has done more in the past eight weeks than in the last year of Labour's government. Whatever next? Perhaps she'll even move into her constituency.

Michael Portillo has been staring out of a lot of windows lately, exploring Britain's rail journeys for the BBC. So he knows a good shine when he sees one, and has taken to evangelising about his window cleaner back home. Residents of Chelsea have received hand-signed letters from the former Tory MP recommending the services of one David Doyle. "When someone works inside and outside the house, I must have complete trust in that person," it reads, "I do place my trust in Mr Doyle." In case you don't believe him the letter provides Portillo's home address, email and even his mobile phone number. He's clearly forgotten what it's like to have constituents.

Shacking up with the Tories still rankles among plenty of Lib Dem MPs, particularly those who lost their seats to a Conservative. Dr Evan Harris cut a decidedly glum figure at the party held by English PEN, the charity that fights for persecuted writers, last week. "I was surprised to lose," the former member for Oxford West and Abingdon told me, "I didn't think I was particularly at risk." He partly blames animal rights activists, who distributed 45,000 leaflets attacking his defence of Oxford University's animal research labs, and says he had sufficient grounds to sue for malicious falsehood, but as a campaigner for free speech decided against it. Constituents may be glad to hear he plans to win the seat back next time.

A final word on Mandy. Alastair Campbell has accused him of misremembering the days immediately after this year's election, and a former home office minister yesterday queried his account of another episode. Well we were warned: This is what Mandy told an interviewer last year: "I'm not a disciplined diary writer or note taker."

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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