Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Raised on Sesame Street


Once tutor to Princes William and Harry, Rory Stewart, in his latest incarnation as Conservative prospective candidate for Penrith, has found himself the unlikely subject of intrigue. Craig Murray, renegade former ambassador to Uzbekistan, claims in his blog that Stewart worked as an MI6 officer in Afghanistan. While it's true Stewart was educated at Eton, received training from the British armed forces, and has yet to marry, the comparisons with James Bond appear to end there. "I've never met Craig Murray and I have no idea why he is saying this," he tells me when I call, "It's not just false but extremely dangerous. I've been doing charity work in countries where people are already at risk and his claims will only endanger them further." Stewart's father is even more succinct: "It's bollocks."

Nobody could accuse the Foreign Office of being out of touch. News reaches me that its palatial Whitehall headquarters were used to host an intimate fundraising dinner for Aids charity The Terrence Higgins Trust on Tuesday, at which Cilla Black and Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead were among 15 guests of FCO minister Chris Bryant. Sarah Brown even dropped by before a cosy supper in the Locarno suite, usually used for stuffy mandarin banquets. Fifty charity dinners are being held across London before diners congregate at the Cuban nightspot Floridita. To economise, I'm told canny FCO caterers used wine left over from a recent state banquet to honour the Indian president, including "a particularly fine Monbazillac." Needs must.

The Daily Mail hasn't stinted in its coverage of the Simon Mann affair, and is said to be a possible buyer of his story, if he decides to tell all. I understand media law firm Harbottle and Lewis are now handling Mann's interests. But you might have expected to read slightly less about Mark "Scratcher" Thatcher's involvement, given that his wife is Lady Francis Russell, sister-in-law of Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the Mail. Not a bit of it – yesterday's paper ran a double page spread asking whether Mann will now land "Scratcher" in jail. With friends like these...

The Spectator's website has vastly improved under the Andrew Neil regime, but a voice of dissent has emerged – from one of its own contributors. After two years blogging for them Clive Davis has taken his thoughts elsewhere and accuses their Coffee House blog of becoming a sanctuary for extremist right-wing loons. "If I were a BNP apparatchik I'd be pleased with the way Coffee House has become a sounding board for the party," he says, "The Spectator's masthead gives the loons that extra measure of cachet." Writing on his new blog, he says that when he voiced his unease to the Spec's editors, they were "intensely proud of their online clientele". Over to the Spec: "We stand by their right to express their voices," says a web bod. "If they were inciting racial hatred or murder we would take it down. There has certainly not been any falling out with Clive." But they may not take kindly to his take on the Spectator's slogan: "Champagne for the brain? More like meths, I'd say."

Leading members of London's blackerati turned out for the opening night of Kwame Kwei-Armah's play Seize the Day at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn on Monday, which imagines an Afro-Caribbean politician running for mayor. Actors Don Warrington and Eamonn Walker were there, but it was Hackney MP Diane Abbott, giggling throughout in her red plush seat, who nearly stole the show. She particularly enjoyed her own appearance in a pre-recorded video sequence. Kwame crept into the back of the stalls to watch her reaction, and, I'm told, was not disappointed by her whoops of glee.

Meanwhile over in Sloane Square, Sir Tom Stoppard was spotted loitering outside the Royal Court on Thursday, moments before curtains up of Lucy Prebble's hit play Enron. Critics have rightly waxed hysterical about the play and the production, which stars Sam West as Enron's chief exec Jeff Skilling, and have hailed its 28-year-old author as "a pretty Pinter" who has blown David Hare's take on recent financial crises out of the water. No wonder Sir Tom was nervous, puffing heavily on a fag before going in.

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