Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (12/09/10)

Play As You Earn scheme

David Cameron defends Andy Coulson by saying everyone deserves a second chance. Now John Major has taken this view of Michael Mates, his former minister who heaped embarrassment on the Major government in 1993 when he resigned over his association with the fugitive tycoon Asil Nadir. John and Norma spent a merry evening with Mates and his wife last Wednesday, attending the launch of Dick Francis's last novel at Claridge's before going on to dinner à quatre. The Majors are undergoing something of a relaunch in society, having recently bought a riverside apartment in London, and they were the guests of honour with Margaret Thatcher at the Saatchi 40th anniversary party on Thursday. Happily nobody noticed that Norma was wearing the same orange suit two days running, and we're certainly not going to tell.

Reviewing Tony Blair's memoirs in The Guardian yesterday, Alistair Darling revealed that he thought Labour had lost the public's support even before 2005. "The truth is that we had been losing for some time," he writes. "Our victory in 2005 had as much to do with Michael Howard, the then Tory leader, as it did with us." This defeatism is corroborated by a friend of the Darlings, who tells me that in the weeks before this year's election, they were already moving out of No 11. "Every weekend they would quietly take two bags each," whispers my man in Edinburgh. "As they had never moved much of their own furniture in, most things could be removed by hand. They knew the election would be lost and it saved the humiliation of moving after polling day."

Cambridge brainbox Alex Guttenplan is already a member of one elite group, as the captain of this year's winning University Challenge team. Now he has joined another: people who can't drive. Despite an impressive knowledge of Greek philosophers and the kings of France, I'm told he has just failed his driving test. Many of the most intelligent people have never mastered the art, including Baroness Susan Greenfield and Sir David Attenborough. It's only bound to endear him even more to his Facebook followers, the cutely named Guttenfans.

Max Mosley and Tom Bower gave the liveliest performances at the Intelligence Squared debate last Tuesday, as they thrashed out the rights and wrongs of privacy laws. At one point Bower managed to rile his own team-mate, Ken Macdonald QC, by accusing Naomi Campbell, below, of being "a liar" over her receipt of a blood diamond from ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor. "I represented Naomi Campbell in the Hague," huffed Macdonald. "She certainly wasn't telling lies and I'll see you in court." Similar threats have never bothered Bower in the past, who won a libel case against Richard Desmond last year. Bower is currently writing a biography of Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, due for publication in March. Provisionally titled No Angel, it promises to reveal the reclusive tycoon's secrets, as Bower's many excellent previous biographies have of other powerful men. There is only one problem – Bower is said to have grown rather fond of his subject, though, ever the pro, we're sure he'll overlook his own feelings in the interest of impartial reporting.

Pink Floyd's first manager, Peter Jenner, has always been a man of many parts – he was a lecturer at the LSE when he spotted the band and decided to ditch academia for rock and roll. His latest obsession is south Asia, and he is on a one-man mission to forge greater links between Britain and the subcontinent. "I'm starting a website called Outer India to bring the two places together," he told me at the launch of my colleague Andy McSmith's book on the 1980s, No Such Thing as Society. McSmith told guests that reading his book would transport them back 30 years, and therefore make them younger, but for Jenner there is no need. "I'm already reliving my youth," he beamed.

Theatre critics normally loathe audience participation, but the Evening Standard's genial Henry Hitchings threw himself into the spirit on Wednesday. Hitchings was reviewing the opening night of Five Guys Named Moe at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London. The show's first half closes with the actors encouraging punters to join a conga line towards the exits. Hitchings duly did so, peeling off at just the right moment to be first into the dress circle bar.