Matthew Bell: The IoS diary


Nick Davies' book 'Flat Earth News' alleges that 'The Observer' enjoys an unhealthily close relationship with the Government. He resurrects the claims, previously denied, that stories undermining the war in Iraq were suppressed and that the paper's ex-political editor, Kamal Ahmed, helped Alastair Campbell write the sexed-up dossier. So it's interesting to learn that Michael Levy, aka "Lord Cashpoint", has appointed an 'Observer' staffer to ghost-write his memoirs. Ned Temko was editor of 'The Jewish Chronicle' for 15 years before joining 'The Obs' as transport correspondent in 2005. Some thought it an odd move for a double Pulitzer Prize nominee and Israeli historian. But Temko is well placed to write transport stories. The chair of the House of Commons Transport Committee is Gwyneth Dunwoody, who is also president of the Labour Friends of Israel. When the donations scandal erupted last year, in which the LFI was implicated, Temko wrote a defence of the lobby group in 'The Observer', dismissing conspiracy theories about the extent of its influence. Who better to set the record straight on cash-for-honours?

Tory MPs no longer have personal assistants. According to sources inside the palace they are now referred to as executive assistants, or EAs. How grand. The measure is thought to be a way of boosting morale among staff following the Derek Conway affair. And perhaps it's just as well. The seedy rumour going round is that some MPs are wife-swapping to get round the clampdown on employing family members.

The novels of Sebastian Faulks explore conflict. As a husband and father of three it's doubtless something he knows plenty about. So news of a row with his teenage son, William, currently a pupil at Winchester College, is perhaps not surprising. I'm told Faulks Jnr recently came up with an ingenious way to punish his father from the distance of his boarding house. He would hit him where it hurts any author – on Amazon. I'm told he wrote a string of negative reviews of Dad's novels on the bookselling site, and gave them a one-star rating (out of a possible five), thus lowering their overall average. Of course, the plot would work only if his father was checking his Amazon ratings regularly, as most authors do. But it seems Faulks Snr has been too busy writing the new James Bond novel to have noticed. Asked if there is any truth in the story, he says, "Not that I know."

Oh no. Is there a cooling in the friendship between Charles Clarke and 'Evening Standard' executive editor Anne McElvoy? Clarke has hotly denied McElvoy's scoop that he intends to run for Labour leader if Gordon Brown loses the election. "Anne McElvoy's piece does not accurately reflect the interview which I gave her [Radio 4] programme," he writes. "I gave no 'signals' of any kind about challenging for the leadership of the party, either now or in the future." But McElvoy is sticking by her story. "The quotes do rather speak for themselves," she says. Until recently Clarke and McElvoy were thick as thieves, even offering themselves as a joint dinner date for the 'Standard' Christmas charity auction. But there is hope for the future. "We are not at loggerheads and will continue to wine and dine," McElvoy reassures me. "Emphasis on the dine, obviously."

It was the shortest-lived blog in history. No sooner had 19-year-old Max Gogarty posted his first bulletin from his gap year in India on the 'Guardian' website, then sneering comments from readers forced the blog to be closed. "It hasn't been axed," says travel editor Andy Pietrasik. "He just doesn't want to continue doing it, following the response." Pietrasik felt moved to write a defence of the little chap's musings, but barred any further comments after nearly 500 piss-taking messages appeared. Sadly he failed to answer the charges of nepotism – Max's father is a 'Guardian' travel writer, Paul Gogarty – or explain why the blog was promoting the Channel 4 series 'Skins' (it was called skins_blog in the URL), for which Gogarty Jnr is a scriptwriter.

Is it time for a Tory Granita pact? When David Cameron and George Osborne return from their half-term holidays this week, all eyes will be on them to see whether they can patch up their alleged rift. The source of the tension is tax cuts – Osborne sees them as a potential vote-winner, while Cameron remembers the disastrous effects the mere mention of them had for the Tories in the past two elections. One party spin-doctor, Steve Hilton, is said to be backing Cameron while another, Andy Coulson, a Cameron appointment, is with Osborne. Could this week mark the start of a new Blair–Brown-style divide?

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