The IoS Diary: Like Joe the Plumber, only more honest

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The Independent Online

Those, like my colleague Janet Street-Porter, who find Harold Pinter's 'No Man's Land' hard going are in good company. Christopher Martin, an 'IoS' reader from Wiltshire, reports that he saw the original production, featuring those immortal theatrical knights John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Martin bumped into Gielgud, who happened to live down the road from him, the day after seeing the play. "Thanks for last night," he said. "I enjoyed it, but what's it about?" Gielgud looked warily up and down the street before whispering: "Neither Ralph nor I know."

John Prescott (pictured) has been explaining his tendency to lapse into malapropisms. In 'Prescott: The Class System and Me', to be broadcast tomorrow week on BBC2, journalist Simon Hoggart is brave enough to suggest to the old bruiser that maybe he can be a bit hasty. Prescott agrees: "I've got my brain racing ahead of my mouth," he says. "And then on occasions I've forgot what I'm talking about. And that comes from my strike days because you didn't dare slow down in case some bugger jumped in when you were talking. So in a way that's an influence from a kind of working-class background." Hoggart won't have it, though, and tells him not to fall back on protestations about class and snobbery. "You've never said, 'I've made it to deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom!' ... all the time you're looking over your shoulder saying, 'ooh I haven't done well enough. I'm not clever enough. They're still looking down on me." And do you know what? Prezza agrees with him.

Who says the Tories are a changed party? One of their acolytes has been entertaining friends with the following tale. A man rings the Samaritans. He gets through to a call centre in Pakistan, and explains that he is feeling suicidal. The Pakistani voice replies: "Feeling suicidal, eh? Can you drive a lorry?"

Contrary to ill-informed speculation, Stephen Carter IS a member of the Labour Party. His heart has long been with the party, but he had to resign his membership when he became boss of Ofcom. Earlier this year he rejoined when he took a job in Downing Street, only to leave it (as predicted, in defiance of strong official denials, in the 'IoS') this month. Now that he is minister for communications, that should be that, but he is thought to be disenchanted and I hear rumours that he might be the subject of an approach from the Tories. Asked recently if he would ever work for the Tories, he failed to say no. Let us hope it was all an awful misunderstanding, shall we?

Meanwhile, the jostling to succeed Carter as head of communications at No 10 continues. Colin Byrne of Weber Shandwick has been tipped, but to my mind it is DJ Collins, a former union official and now head of comms for Google Europe, who is the object of the PM's admiration.

Another round in the long-running Church vs Mammon bout. Millionaire George Hammer has upset Lady Sainsbury, the wife of former Tory minister and millionaire Sir Tim Sainsbury. She is furious at the Icelander's plan to turn St Mark's Church in North Audley Street, London, into another of his "wellness centres" (he was responsible for the Sanctuary in Covent Garden, central London). Lady S, who attends the women's monthly Bible study group at the crumbling Greek Revival building (Grade 1 listed and 20 years on English Heritage's Buildings at Risk register), says the "wicked destruction" is "tantamount to sacrilege". She's not overjoyed at the

C of E's willingness to allow the plan and, with just weeks to go before the crunch planning meeting, has overcome her squeamishness about criticising the church. She has also written to Westminster council, disputing claims that the church is barely used.

"Putting a commercial temple into a church is ... a terrible thing to do when there is a strong congregation and it does so much for the community. It really upsets me. The whole episode really doesn't show the church in a good light." If given the go-ahead, Hammer's plans would see the altar make way for a juice bar and the church become an expensive spa. Handy _for Hammer, who lives in the vicarage next door.