Matthew Bell: The IoS diary


Their snouts may appear firmly bedded in the trough, but when it comes to fine dining MPs will tell you there is nowhere worthy of their expense accounts near the Palace of Westminster. So news that a top-flight restaurant may be about to open on Parliament Square will doubtless be welcome all round. I gather the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, whose headquarters occupy a grand building on the west side of the square, are in talks with Michelin-starred chefs about the possibility of opening a posh nosherie on the first floor. The RICS currently has dining facilities for members, but tough times have forced it to look into ways of maximising its assets and I'm told they are hoping to attract a big-name chef. A name for the restaurant has yet to be decided, but RICS' Café has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

It was the week for parties, but none could trump Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday bash on Wednesday for its bounty of A-listers. Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown showed up, but there was no sign of David Cameron. Had he not been invited? "I don't know if he was, actually," says a spokesman for Cameron when I call, "but in any case he couldn't go because he was in Paris at a conference. It was a long-standing engagement." Those who know Dave say he would have adored Wednesday's celeb-fest, where stars rarely seen in London, such as Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith, whooped the night away with Elton, Naomi and Uma.

Betty Boothroyd's previously reported incarnation as one of the dancing Tiller Girls came in useful at a party given by Richard Heller on Friday night. The former speaker of the House of Commons took to the floor to sing and trip to "My Old Man Said Follow the Van" as guests gathered round the piano at the National Liberal Club to mark Heller's 60th birthday. Heller had plenty to celebrate, having won 73 votes in the Henley by-election the previous day, standing as a candidate for the Fur Play Party dressed as a bear. Heller's attempt to become a "Membear of Parliament" was far from hopeless: Labour's candidate won fewer than a thousand votes more.

Those who enjoyed Tory MP Alan Duncan's robust exchange with John Humphrys on the 'Today' programme yesterday – when he announced he would be suing the 'Daily Mail' for allegations in a Peter Oborne article about his involvement with an oil company – may want to block off Wednesday evening in their diaries. Duncan is due to speak at an Editorial Intelligence debate on business ethics, with... Peter Oborne. "I'm looking forward to asking Alan Duncan further questions about political and business integrity," Oborne tells me. Duncan, meanwhile, sees no problem in having an oil company directorship at the same time as being the shadow minister responsible for business. Evidently, he has been telling friends, there would be a problem only if he was on the board of a British company.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has already sacked one adviser over an ill-judged remark; might he now reconsider the appointment of another? His choice of NuLab darling Richard Rogers as his architectural tsar raised some eyebrows given that Rogers will be 75 in July and Johnson has said he wants to champion "up-and-coming architects". Now a row is brewing over the future of the Robin Hood Gardens estate in east London, revered by Rogers – and other people who don't live there – as an icon of 1960s New Brutalism, but whose residents have voted overwhelmingly for its demolition. Lord Rogers, whose own home is a £4m townhouse in Chelsea, has hailed the estate as a "beautiful" work of art, worthy of comparison with Bath's Royal Crescent, and is calling for it to be listed. But the tenants find it a grim, concrete monstrosity blighted by urine-soaked stairwells. They want to see it replaced with decent housing.

David Davis is not the only one making professional sacrifices in the name of civil liberties. Author Nikita Lalwani, who won the inaugural Desmond Elliott Prize for a first novel on Thursday, has given away the £10,000 prize money to charity. No sooner had she been named the winner, then she donated the whole lot to Liberty, the civil rights group run by Shami Chakrabarti. One of the judges, Cristina Odone, expressed her admiration. "It's an amazingly selfless thing for anyone to do," she said, "not least a hard-up writer starting out." The prize was founded to commemorate Desmond Elliott – a dandyish literary agent credited with discovering Jilly Cooper among others and who stood just 5ft tall.

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