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Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (07/03/10)

An asteroid falling on the dinosaurs

Michael Foot has been hailed as a national treasure, but according to a former KGB agent he was passing intelligence to Moscow. It's an allegation for which Foot once successfully sued The Sunday Times but, according to Oleg Gordievsky, during the Fifties and Sixties, Foot held meetings with Russian agents at his office at Tribune, where he would exchange information on the Labour movement for small sums of cash slipped into his jacket pocket. These meetings stopped by the 1970s, but in 1985, shortly before he fled the Soviet Union for the UK, Gordievsky says he was instructed to re-establish contact: "In March '85 I received a telegram from the KGB saying 'get in touch with our important former agent Michael Foot very soon because we need his advice and knowledge'. I reported to MI6, who begged me not to do this as it would put them in an impossible situation, given that he was a potential future prime minister. I agreed with them and was desperately trying to avoid this situation, when in May the KGB unmasked me." The old spook claims the KGB's renewed interest was aroused in the same month as Mikhail Gorbachev assumed leadership of the Communist Party, having visited London three months earlier. Foot's friend Mark Seddon tells me: "Michael was lifelong anti-Communist and anti-totalitarian. It's ludicrous. He wouldn't have taken a penny from the Russians and it is cowardly in the extreme to repeat this so soon after Michael has died."

Germaine Greer is preparing to take legal action over the spiteful attack on her from fellow Australian writer Louis Nowra, I can reveal. The Cambridge-based professor has refused invitations from several newspapers to respond to his remarks but, speaking exclusively to the diary, says she is consulting lawyers over Nowra's article, in which he makes damning allegations about her sanity. Writing in the Australian mag The Monthly and in Friday's Daily Mail, Nowra likened Greer, 71, to a "demented grandmother", and described her as "a befuddled and exhausted old woman".

"I'm talking to lawyers about his use of the word 'demented'," Greer tells me from her Essex home. "If he used it about me then it's actionable." Nowra's article has been published ahead of the 40th anniversary of Greer's influential book, The Female Eunuch, and says Greer fundamentally misunderstood how women tick, and that she has been disappointed by the behaviour of post-feminist women. Greer is almost speechless at the idea she could be so self-important: "Who do I think I am to say I'm disappointed in women?"

Gordon Ramsay teetered perilously close to bankruptcy before Christmas. Now Claridge's, the London hotel that houses one of his best restaurants, could soon be handed over to the Irish government as part of a loan repayment scheme. Claridge's, The Connaught and the Berkeley are among a portfolio of 200 luxury hotels destined to be controlled by Ireland's National Asset Management Agency, as the government calls in the first tranche of €80bn (£72bn) it is owed in loans. This has raised some eyebrows among hoteliers, who wonder how much experience the agency has in hotel management. But it must be good news for travelling Irish politicians, who can prop up their ailing economy by booking suites at Claridge's. Black velvets all round!

Singer Annie Lennox was once a vocal critic of Israel's assault on Gaza, attending a protest rally with Ken Livingstone and George Galloway. But she now appears to have changed her tune, and is taking a more balanced view. Speaking at the Editorial Intelligence conference in Portmeirion last weekend, she said "Both sides are right and both sides are wrong", and condemned Hamas's rocket attacks as well as Israeli air strikes. Could a career in international diplomacy be far off?

A vivid array of art grandees and collectors turned up for a preview of the V&A's exhibition of Horace Walpole, himself one of the great collectors of the 18th century. One noble fossil peering into an exhibition case was overheard to remark to his female companion "I thought we had that," to which she replied "You'd better have a word with your grandson."