Six years after Spycatcher made Peter Wright a household name and Heinemann, its publishers, a lot of money - not because of any intrinsic merit, of course, but because of the book's lengthy legal detour on its way to the bookshops - another spook writer, Stephen Dorril, has started out on the same road.
Review copies of The Silent Conspiracy, a study of the reorganisation of the security services following the end of the Cold War due to be published next week, had already been withdrawn by its publishers (correct: Heinemann again) because of a possible libel when the Attorney- General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, became aware of the book.
I cannot see Andrew Neil et al becoming involved again, but Sir Nicholas found it sufficiently worrying to send a fax yesterday afternoon, drawing Heinemann's attention to a certain passage of the book. It centres, I gather, on the activities of one Michael Smith, a former GEC Marconi systems manger, awaiting trial on 8 June on four counts of breaching the Official Secrets Act. Smith's solicitor, Richard Jefferies, tells me the book contains 'an alleged link that cannot be revealed until the trial'.
Heinemann insists that any delay will only be temporary. 'We're very keen on it,' a spokesman said. 'We knew that the legal department needed to investigate it thoroughly - obviously some things just slip through the net.'
TORY whips were not in buoyant mood on Tuesday night after the Speaker's Maastricht ruling, but their spirits seemed a touch higher come yesterday. You'll have to wait until later today for an official announcement, but one whip gave the game away when he whispered: 'I've just heard the new boundary changes; it looks as though we won't have a Stafford seat.' We're sure Bill Cash will find another constituency soon.
Julian Davidson, the Tory candidate at Newbury, has had some 'sparky' ideas, his 'minder' told the Diary yesterday. One was the design of the posters, explained Tory MP Gerry Malone, but knowing that one, I asked, pen at the ready, for another example. There was a long pause, then a spluttering noise as the amiable Scotsman disappeared into his coffee. 'You bastard,' I distinctly heard him say.
(I'm sure he has thought of some by now. Earlier, Malone had also called his candidate David, although he recovered quickly, re-transposing the first name and surname, but I put that down to lack of sleep - Malone had spent the previous night on a camp bed in his Commons office, before arriving in Newbury at 7am.)
If Davidson loses, nobody will blame Malone (the Tories have won only three of the last 24 by-elections after all). However, the Diary is not convinced minders are a good idea, if only because they can be so misrepresented. Early in the campaign, journalists noticed Malone whispering to Davidson during press conferences and accused him of 'doing a Nancy Reagan' (remember Nancy standing on the White House lawn, prompting the President out of the corner of her mouth). Completely untrue. All Malone was doing, he tells me, was asking the time, having lost his watch on holiday in Spain, but you see what I mean.
Malone takes all this in good heart, and although his own personal record could be improved (won two elections, lost four), the party is in no doubt that the campaign would have been a poorer and less jolly one without him.
So will his man win? Malone, not normally a betting man, slipped out to the bookmaker three days ago and put money on Davidson, leaving it that late to ensure better odds (whether this did anything for his candidate's confidence, I cannot say).
Earlier, in a sweepstake in Annie's bar in the Commons, he had predicted a majority of 3,423, and he is sticking by that 'to within one or two votes'. If he wins - he reassured the Prime Minister on Tuesday night that things were looking good - I have only one suggestion about what he should buy with the money. A watch.
A DAY LIKE THIS
6 May 1924 MAYNARD KEYNES writes from King's College, Cambridge, to Lydia Lopokova in Paris: 'I have been in a bad temper all today, because early in the morning when I was in my bed I heard someone prowling round my rooms, and then later it came again and it knocked hard at the door of my WC while I was in it, and I hated it and locked my bedroom door and knew it must be some terrible bore, and at last after two hours I had to come out of my bedroom to do my writing and there it was, sitting on the sofa - a dear old friend back from abroad whom I hadn't seen for so many years and had been very kind to me in the past and was a paralysing bore; so my passions rose and I glared at him and just pushed him out, which was very bad behaviour and therefore left me still in a bad temper.'Reuse content