Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

A beacon of clarity amid the uncertainty


Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow is celebrating after taking part in a campaign to save a local pub, the Torriano, in his North London neighbourhood. "It's a great day for democracy," he proclaimed on Friday. But, according to some, the pub was never in danger – the proprietors merely wanted to convert the upper floors into flats. It's not the first time that Snow, who was protesting enthusiastically outside Camden Town Hall on Thursday, has excited himself over the Torriano. In 2005 he was on the warpath over a proposed extension to the pub's licence, firing off letters to the council asking them to block it, which they duly did. So many battles, so little time.

Whispers in the Commons reach me that minister James Purnell might have resigned had he been a casualty of the recent reshuffle. Still, a P45 would not have caused Purnell too many sleepless nights. In the early 1990s he found himself unemployed and did what any self-respecting young man does – sign up for the dole. "I remember queuing for a good hour, outside the kind of building that gave East German architecture a bad name," he writes in a local paper. Now he is Work and Pensions Secretary, and boasts: "My department employs over 100,000 people and spends more money each year than the entire GDP of Denmark." Perhaps now's not the best time to mention such extravagance.

Nick Robinson, the BBC's outstanding political editor, remarked on the 'Today' programme how much happier Gordon Brown seems now that the economic gloom has become really Stygian. Brown, said Robinson, had come "within weeks" of an attempt to unseat him. But hang on, that's what everyone else was saying. Robinson, famously, stuck his neck out in predicting there would be no challenge to Brown's leadership. Don't sell yourself short, Nick.

On yer bike. Sacked Foreign Office minister Kim Howells – who lost his job in the reshuffle – was spotted forlornly pumping up his bicycle tyre at the House of Commons bike rack last week. "The first time in 11 years," he muttered – that he's been without a ministerial car, that is. One of Howells' most impressive achievements since 1997 has been not to get sacked, despite a habit of speaking his mind. There was the time he described Turner Prize entries as "cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit", and on another occasion blasted black rappers as idiots. His bike looked as if it hasn't seen much use, but Howells says he's "cheerful in adversity". That's the spirit.

A picture of Gordon Brown made out of a collage of gay pornographic images has barely raised an eyebrow since going on show in New York. Created by English portraitist Jonathan Yeo, son of former Tory minister Tim, the picture was going to be pulled after Yeo had a sudden pang of anxiety, given Brown's poor poll ratings. But he needn't have worried: "Everyone's much more interested in the one of Paris Hilton," Yeo tells me. "People haven't really recognised Gordon Brown." It's hard to know which part of all that is more insulting.

After years of under-funding, 'Tribune' magazine will close by the end of the month unless a buyer is found. But, apart from a chronic lack of funding, the Socialist rag has also been riven by a stand-off between two writers over plagiarism. Now, lawyers have been drafted in and a mediator brought from the National Union of Journalists. "It's the last thing they need," says one close to the magazine, "Someone needs to bang their heads together."

There might only ever have been one series of 'Blackadder' had Michael Grade had his way. Speaking at the Cheltenham festival, Richard Curtis recalled how the-then BBC One controller had rejected a second series on the grounds of cost. So Curtis went back to see where cuts could be made: "One of Rowan Atkinson's hats had cost more than I had been paid for the whole series." Also at the festival was Tony Robinson, who made his name as Baldrick. "I was only offered it because they'd tried every other short, ugly man in Equity," he said. "Frankly, it was such a crap part that everyone else turned it down."

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