Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Always near but never on the dance floor
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The Independent Online

At a conference in Liverpool last week, Lord Heseltine called the Government's management of the London Thames Gateway regeneration a "shambles". He called for control of the project to be taken away from central government and given to local authorities. But could this be the same Lord Tarzan who, as Mrs Thatcher's Environment supremo, established government-appointed development corporations to take regeneration and planning away from local councils? And who, having first come up with the idea of the Thames Gateway back in the early 1980s, couldn't get it off the ground before losing power 17 years later?

An object lesson in good PR. During a play by former Czech president Vaclav Havel at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, west London, I gather there is a moment when actress Carolyn Backhouse exposes her chest. But as the Orange Tree's stage is "in the round", only half the audience can, well, see. So director Sam Walters, knowing how to keep the assembled journos entertained – or at least the sweaty old gents among them – made sure they were strategically situated to get a full view of Miss Backhouse's embonpoint. The old rascal!

It's a victory for the diary. Following my revelation last week that Joan Bakewell had cheesed off speakers in a debate she was due to chair by writing a newspaper article laying out her own views, the newly appointed "old people's tsar" did the honourable thing and stepped down. Toby Young stepped into the breach, and I'm happy to report that he kept an admirably impartial line on the hot topic, "Is it wrong to pay for sex?"

Red-blooded Lib Dem (if that's not an oxymoron too far) Lady Bonham-Carter (pictured below) has been telling of her frustration at nearly meeting Brad Pitt. The former 'Newsnight' producer turned peer was in the US gathering evidence for the House of Lords Communications Committee when she visited 'The Washington Post'. Suddenly she realised the heartthrob actor was a mere Cupid's arrow shot away, when the committee's chairman, Norman Fowler, bundled the peers into a pre-arranged meeting. Bonham-Carter, panting at the thought of sexy Brad, mutters, "There was mutiny in the air."

Boris Johnson's head of policy Anthony Browne, formerly director of think tank Policy Exchange, is a consummate hobnobber. I'm told he recently allowed himself to be bought lunch by Martin Ivens, deputy editor of 'The Sunday Times', followed by dinner the same day on the expense account of Lionel Barber, editor of the 'Financial Times'. So many editors, so little time.

Just before delivering an after-dinner speech in Brighton last week, Alastair Campbell asked three diners on his table each to suggest a word he promised to insert. According to one, Roger Crombie, the words were "trousers", "scissors" and an unrepeatable swear word, dared him by his hostess. After deftly slipping in the first two, Campbell appeared to reach the end of his speech. But before leaving the stage he paused, turned to his hostess and said: "Oh, I haven't quite finished. I was asked to say something ..." Mortified, she gestured wildly for him to stop, and I'm pleased to report he did. How to be a gentleman and a cad at the same.

What started as a spat between a poet and a bookshop has escalated into a full-scale row about civil liberties. Members of the Welsh Assembly have weighed in to condemn Waterstones in Cardiff after they cancelled a poetry reading by Patrick Jones following complaints from a Christian campaign group that his poems were blasphemous. The bookshop said Wednesday's event was called off to avoid potential "disruption", but Assembly Members are calling it a violation of the right to free speech. Now Jones, the brother of Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire, will read his poems in a room at the Welsh Assembly on the invitation of Lib-Dem Assembly Member Peter Black. This has inevitably prompted outrage from members of Christian Voice, one of whom said Black had "made it official Lib-Dem policy to insult Jesus Christ". The hoo-ha has prompted Hay Festival founder Peter Florence to invite Jones to speak at next year's festival, so don't expect this one to die down any time soon.