Sindy: The IoS Diary (08/05/11)

Happy as the day is long

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David Cameron took refuge again in the words "I'm not going to give a running commentary" last weekend when asked to admit that Nato bombs are being aimed at Colonel Gaddafi. Political lexicographers who found his answer evasive have history on their side. The phrase figures prominently in the annals of political weaselry. Tony Blair used it in June 2003 when those pesky WMD wouldn't turn up. ("We are not going to give a running commentary on it. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of potential WMD sites that are still being investigated.") No 10 used it two months later when we were all wondering how the name of Dr David Kelly (as the source of that telling Iraq-related leak) reached a fortunate few journalists. Tessa Jowell's office used it when discussing her (and her husband's) mysterious mortgage arrangements, and Nick Clegg used it in January while the fudge on protection orders was being negotiated. Note to Dave: it invites suspicion.

And on the subject of dissembling, Cameron can surely do a little better when discussing his friendship with Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International. Challenged on the radio about the suitability of the PM having attended a dinner at her house before Christmas (when the takeover of BSkyB was at a crucial stage), Cameron said "the person in question is married to a very old friend of mine" (ie, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks). To be strictly accurate, I'm told it is Dave's brother, Alex, three years his senior, who is primarily the old friend and contemporary of Brooks. Anyway, are we to infer that Rebekah's frequent presence at maison Cameron is purely a result of a blokes' friendship and that the person who pulls the strings at Wapping is a mere add-on? Pull the other one, Dave.

Tony Blair's non-invitation to the royal wedding becomes odder and odder when you consider who was asked. Take Count Paolo Filo della Torre, for example, formerly London correspondent of the Italian daily La Repubblica. Filo della Torre is, shall we say, a gentleman journalist of the old school, considered charming by some old-guard Tories. In 1989, he reported on bonfires lit on hilltops and street parties to mark Mrs Thatcher's 10 years in office. (Oddly, they passed unnoticed by other reporters.) He still lives in London, often escorting Judith Warner, Lord Mayor of Westminster, to glittering events in the capital. His most recent sortie into Italian public life was when, from London, he suggested on Italian national radio that southern Italians are dirty. "There are very few exportable Italians," he said. "If they were to send more dirty ones over here, it would be a disaster. The English had to subsidise Garibaldi to annex southern Italy to the north.... They asked me [to the royal wedding] because the English, unlike the Italians, know how to do things. They are gents, not like the sweaty types from southern Italy." In case you wondered, the count is from as far north as... Rome.

To compound poor John Humphrys' unimpressive last seven days (he got in a shocking tangle with David Cameron about AV, called Ed Miliband "David" and yesterday referred to 7/7 as "5/5"), the veteran Today presenter caused yet more teeth-sucking among high-ups at the corporation. In a flagrant breach of Beeb groupthink, he referred to possible "reform" of the electoral system. The word is banned in that context, on the grounds that "reform" is assumed by Beeb bosses to imply reform for the good, progressive, on the side of the angels, a good thing, etc, and such an endorsement would be in breach of BBC neutrality. You can't help thinking Humphrys would have known this, and used the term intentionally to wind up his bosses. To be fair to the Beeb, the dictionary defines to reform as "to improve" or "to correct". But why, then, is the term "NHS reforms" allowed?

Baroness Ashton has not been blessed with a good press as the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Last week, in a remarkable breach of protocol, Belgian's Foreign Affairs Minister, Steven Vanackere, said she should be removed because she's slow to react to major events. My source with the bière brune tells me this may be linked to the ambitions of Dominique de Villepin, France's "silver fox" former PM, who is said to covet Lady Ashton's job (and he is not alone) from 2014, when she would be hoping to win a second term. But first he has to see off a charge of smearing his former rival Nicolas Sarkozy. Given the coverage Cathy Ashton has had, she won't need smearing. Not that the old smoothie De Villepin would dream of being so ungallant, of course.

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