Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (11/07/10)

The occasional jibe, but no cuts
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The Independent Online

The mystery continues of how Peter Mandelson managed to find £2.4m to buy his Primrose Hill home, inviting comparison with the house that Labour patron Geoffrey Robinson helped him to buy with a £373,000 loan in 1998. According to an article in yesterday's Times, the former Business Secretary bought his current home "after an advertising agency that he helped set up was sold". But the shares in the agency were not sold until nearly a year after he bought the house, in 2006. (Perhaps some kind benefactor, or even, good heavens, a building society, was on hand to arrange another loan.) He also said he had used a family inheritance – again inviting comparison with the Robinson house – but his mother, who died in early 2006, left him £452,000, which by the calculation of all but the most financially astute would still have left him well short, even taking into account the sale of his previous property, a penthouse in St James's. No doubt all will be clear when we read the book.

Radio 4 boss Mark Damazer thought The Archers plotline about Pip and Jude was so incredible he contacted the programme's editor, Vanessa Whitburn, to intervene. In case you've missed it, Pip, the 17-year-old daughter of David and Ruth Archer, has fallen for a much older love rat, Jude, for whom she gave up college to go round the world, only for him to leave without her. "Even I thought it was a little far-fetched, so I said, 'Are we sure this is right?'," admitted Damazer on Thursday at an awards ceremony for the mental health charity Mind, which he was presenting. A BBC spokesman confirmed that Damazer had contacted Whitburn, but played down the suggestion of any editorial interference. "Mark and Vanessa often joust over Archers matters," he said, "but it's all very light-hearted." Damazer, nicknamed "two brains", leaves the BBC in September to become head of St Peter's College, Oxford. Knowing academe, he'd better get used to the idea of inappropriate relationships.

So Nick Clegg is backing Holland over Spain in today's World Cup final, because of his mum's ancestry, and despite his wife hailing from near Madrid. But what of Cameron? At last Wednesday's match he backed Germany and not Spain, to the dismay, no doubt, of anyone who shares Basil Fawlty's position on forgiving and forgetting. Dave's rationale was simple – it's a lesser ignominy for England to lose to the eventual winners, so supporting Germany was an entirely patriotic act. Hmm.

Earl Spencer has a lot of empty wall space after last week's three-day sale of pictures from Althorp, so it's no surprise to learn he's been snapping up some new art. But he has found a cunning solution to the dilemma of what would be suitable to replace the family heirlooms: he has bought two works by fashionable artist Mitch Griffiths, whose giant paintings use effects like chiaroscuro to mimic the old masters. One of Spencer's two new works by Griffiths, a previous winner of the BP portrait prize, is called Britannia. The other is called Rehab, a reminder, perhaps, of one of his ex-wives.

Something of a stand-off has emerged between the Daily Mail's chief political commentator and the Downing Street press office. In yesterday's paper, Peter Oborne said he had it on good authority that No 10 had contingency plans, should the Archbishop of Canterbury step down over the row on women bishops. But No 10 protested yesterday that this "completely untrue". Oborne stands by his story, when I call. In the days of Alastair Campbell, journalists were used to being lied to, but Cameron's operation has changed all that. Or has it?

Tony Benn is such an old softy. "I'm very much in favour of showing your feelings. I burst into tears very easily," he says, before telling a touching tale from Paddington station. "There were kids aged 16 or 17 holding up slogans saying 'Free hugs'. It was wonderful. Plenty of business people were looking down their noses – but one older woman on her own got a hug, and was thrilled. I got one too, of course." Aaah.