Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (25/07/10)

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The Independent Online

The sale of Channel 5 to Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond prompted Tom Bower to pen a damming piece in yesterday's Guardian, decrying Ofcom for "lowering the threshold of suitability of the prospective owner of a TV channel". Readers left wondering who Mr Bower is were informed he is "the author of Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge", a biography of that other press magnate, Conrad Black. Why weren't they told the, surely more pertinent, fact that Bower is also the author of a biography of Richard Desmond, called Rough Trader? Could it be because the book was written several years ago, but, inexplicably, has yet to find a publisher in the UK? Bower was said to be in talks with HarperCollins last year, but still no book.

In his Guardian piece, Tom Bower accuses Richard Desmond of "pursuing a personal grudge" via his newspaper the Sunday Express, adding that this "misuse of the newspaper is exactly why he is unsuitable to own a TV channel". Nobody could accuse Bower of ever pursuing personal grudges via newspapers: throughout the seven years that his wife Veronica Wadley edited the Evening Standard, the paper maintained a scrupulously impartial line when stories happened to come up relating to any of Bower's adversaries, such as Richard Branson and Conrad Black. This required particular diligence, given how often these stories happened to pop up.

We know that Samantha Cameron was responsible for choosing the work by Ben Eine for Dave to give Barack, but how did she come to hear of the artist? Until now Eine – real name Ben Flynn – was unheard of except to the urban art community.

But for many years he was the creative partner of Banksy, the elusive graffiti artist from Bristol. Banksy is an old friend of SamCam, from her days as an art student at Bristol poly in the 1990s. Could it be that Banksy and SamCam are still mates, and it was he who steered SamCam towards Eine's work? In which case, the Obamas owe a small debt of gratitude to Banksy, the most prolific illegal artist in the world, for the picture that is now gracing the presidential home. It's a funny old world.

Martin Amis abstained from voting in the election, but he still has a fan in David Miliband. The Labour leadership hopeful has revealed he will be taking Amis's latest novel, The Pregnant Widow, on holiday with him this summer. "The reviews have been mixed but personally I don't think you can ever be disappointed with an Amis novel," he gushes. "His ability to draw you into his writing is second to none. It's definitely one to be enjoyed on holiday with a cold beer, when the children have gone to bed." Miliband Major surged ahead in the leadership race last week – might Amis now do the decent thing and repay the plug by adding his backing?

There was some harrumphing from traditionalists when John Bercow dumped the Speaker's official garb on assuming office last summer. Now he is turning a blind eye to MPs who don't wear ties. Last week, Denis MacShane appeared with a naked neck during a debate in the Commons, and tried to hide it by holding sheets of paper at chin height. But he was soon exposed when heckles of "Where's his tie?" went round the Chamber. When a Labour MP, Graham Allen, appeared without a tie last year, he was prevented from speaking by the Deputy Speaker, Sir Alan Haselhurst, as members are expected to wear a suit and tie at all times in the Chamber. But that was in the uptight days before Bercow, who on Thursday cheerfully let MacShane carry on. "The question of the Right Honourable Gentleman's neckwear – or lack of it – is a matter of no concern to the House," he said. "I want to hear what the Right Honourable Gentleman has got to say." MacShane then explained: "I've just had extensive root canal treatment and can't tighten my neck at the moment – I'm terribly sorry. But I can open my mouth."

It looks like the bottom half of a smiley face, the sort beloved of e-popping ravers. In fact, this is the signature of a senior cabinet minister as it appeared on a letter to Boris Johnson the other day. But whose is it? A bottle of delicious diary champagne to the first reader who guesses correctly.