The Feral Beast: Vince Cable eyes the Tony Blair millions

By royal command

Matthew Bell
Saturday 08 June 2013 18:43

The secrets of Tony Blair's many millions could finally be revealed, as the Government plans to change the law on limited liability partnerships (LLPs). Since leaving office, the ex-PM has made a fortune through his business activities, but has kept the source and scale of his wealth hidden thanks to a complex web of companies. One of these is an LLP, a controversial structure that allows businesses to withhold information, which KPMG advised him to set up. Now, following revelations that LLPs are being used by money-launderers and tax-avoiders, Vince Cable's department is clamping down. A spokesman tells me: "The Government is committed to ensure full transparency in beneficial ownership in the UK. This will include LLPs as well as corporate and other legal entities. The UK is leading the way in shining a light on company ownership and driving ambitious international action through the EU and G8, as the Prime Minister made clear in his recent letter to Herman Van Rompuy." Tony Blair insists he does not avoid paying tax, saying he spends "a fortune" on lawyers to make sure his affairs are within the law. But last year, one of his companies paid only £315,000 tax on an income of £12m. Better give KPMG another call.

Orange squash

Cherie, meanwhile, has found a good way to spend the Blair millions. She was one of a select clutch of private donors who funded this year's Women's Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize. Cherie duly turned up for last week's announcement party at the Southbank, to see A M Homes win with May We Be Forgiven, which scuppered Hilary Mantel's hopes for a literary hat-trick after she had won the Booker and the Costa. Happily, a new sponsor has been found for next year, liquor-makers Baileys. But Cherie is not a fan. "I've never had a Baileys," she told me, before turning to her two young female assistants. "But these two look like they have." Cue awkward silence.

Book wars

More awkwardness came at the end of A M Homes's acceptance speech. First there were tears – she thanked her father, who died a month ago, knowing she was on the shortlist. Then there were laughs – she thanked her grandmother, who lent her the money to buy a typewriter, but made her pay it back. And then there was literary intrigue, as she thanked the team at Granta for publishing her book. Among those she singled out was Philip Gwyn Jones, Granta's executive publisher. At least, he was, until he dramatically quit last month, along with four colleagues, in what one described as a "total shit-storm". Billionaire proprietor Sigrid Rausing is merging the magazine and publishing arms, with one person to run both divisions. Gwyn Jones has declined to speak about his departure, except to wish Sigrid good luck. Everyone seems to think she'll need it.

Widdy's woe

Ann Widdecombe has received lukewarm reviews for her memoir, Strictly Ann. One reviewer complains that she goes into exhaustive detail about the row with Michael Howard, when she said he had "something of the night". But it was just as painful for her having to write it. "I very much enjoyed writing 95 per cent of the book," she told me at the launch at the Carlton Club. "But I didn't enjoy the other 5 per cent. There are events that have been difficult in my life, that I didn't really want to rehearse again, like the argument with Michael Howard. But if you're writing a record of your life, there are some things you can't leave out." Surely the point of writing it yourself is that you can.

Holy T-shirt

As a celebrity chaplain who heard the confessions of Alan Clark and Ann Widdecombe, Father Michael Seed was once a regular on the London cocktail circuit. Recently he moved to the humbler parish of Cardiff, to become chaplain to the Archbishop of Cardiff, George Stack. But his new life is far from uncomfortable – he now lives in a mansion so big he doesn't know how many rooms it has. "I think there are about 40, but we keep finding new ones," he tells me. "The Archbishop fills it with priests in need. Besides, it's not as big as Vincent Nichols's house – that has hundreds!" Seed seems to have found a suitably colourful boss in Archbishop Stack. He tells me the Archbishop likes to walk round Cardiff in shorts and T-shirt. "The parishioners still recognise him," says Seed. "An Italian man recently stopped him and bowed to kiss his foot, with cries of 'Eccellente!' The Archbishop was in his flip-flops...."

Lost century

The BBC enjoyed glowing reviews for The Last Days of Anne Boleyn, starring Tara Breathnach as Henry VIII's sexpot second wife. But a viewer point out a howler, in the Radio Times. "I was perplexed that on at least four occasions the narrator referred to these events of 1536 as taking place 'almost six hundred years ago'," writes Julie Horner of Macclesfield. "Presumably this was to allow for the repeats on Yesterday?"

Pass, friend

Speaker Bercow has announced a clampdown on the doling out of parliamentary passes, in the wake of the lobbying scandal. "Applications for passes for Members' staff should seek more information than at present about the purposes for which a pass is required," he says. What will this mean for Iain Dale, the Tory blogger and chat-show host, who, bizarrely, has a parliamentary pass? When pushed, Dale said he needs it to help out his pal Keith Simpson "by doing bits of research" and contributing "ideas for the odd speech". You might think, as a web-age journalist, Dale could do that from anywhere. But his claim is by no means the weakest: several peers have passes for their drivers and one, Lord Razzall, has one for his literary agent.

Baker's treat

Colin Baker was Doctor Who for less than two years, but he remains committed to the cause. Flying to Denver for a 50th anniversary bash, he was almost arrested for possession of a snack. Asked by an official if he was bringing any food in to the country, he jovially replied he had an uneaten ham sandwich. "He gave me a basilisk stare, wrote SANDWICH in huge red letters across my landing card – and directed me to the customs hall, where I was ordered to join a queue for examination by the officers of the agricultural department," Baker recounts. "Forty-five minutes later I had my ham sandwich confiscated. When I suggested that I could have saved myself a lot of time at the end of a long flight by eating the darn thing, I was told that I would have been arrested had I done so, as eating in the baggage hall was a federal offence!" Makes the Tardis seem normal.

Clarissa's surprise guest

Clarissa Dickson Wright was speaking in a high-powered series of spring talks at St Paul's Cathedral in London when a tramp gatecrashed the event. Celebrity cook Clarissa tells the Church Times: "In all that glory and pomp, just four days after Mrs Thatcher's funeral, into the front row marches this black, smelly bag lady, sits down and snores like a grampus." Former heavy drinker Clarissa, a lawyer who found culinary fame as one half of the Two Fat Ladies, told Sarah Eynstone, her St Paul's interviewer: "Don't you realise that there, but for the grace of God, go I?"

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