Brian Leveson’s epic inquiry into press malpractice is finally drawing to a close. In Britain, the courtroom saga has enjoyed a tiny daytime TV audience of tagged convicts, stoned job-seekers, bored print journalists and ex-employees of News International. But in Australia, millions have tuned in to watch his lordship’s estimable ruminations. Their enthusiasm is about to be rewarded by the great jurist himself, who is planning a short speaking tour down under, kicking off in Sydney as soon as his report is published. Even his press officer is happy to disclose these travel arrangements to anyone who picks up the phone. I find this innocent candour rather endearing. Poor sweet Brian is under the illusion that he won’t be pursued around the streets of the New South Wales capital by teams of vengeful paparazzi taking silly shots of him with a sunburnt face trying to swat away mosquitoes with his copy of the Middle Temple Yearbook. Has he learned nothing from his own inquiry?
Norman Lamont, the whizz-kid who trashed his party’s economic reputation on Black Wednesday, is still offering tips on financial management to his former apprentice, David Cameron. The pair meet regularly to discuss the development of economic policy, I’m told, but they’re understandably reluctant to be photographed in public. A friend who has witnessed their shadowy conclaves tells me, ‘It’s like Eddie the Eagle giving flying lessons to Humpty Dumpty.’
Lynton Crosby’s swear-box is filling up. The Aussie strategist may have guided Boris to victory in this year’s mayoral contest, but he managed to alienate many of BoJo’s inner circle in the process. One former Boris aide leaked a rumour that Crosby had made disparaging asides about ‘fucking Muslim voters’ in London. Instant retaliation followed when a Crosby crony let slip that the Australian guru regarded all Boris’s aides as ‘fuckwits’.
These dark whispers are unwelcome to Crosby. He hates ‘process stories’ that shift attention away from clear political messages and on to managerial snarl-ups. Yet his possible recruitment by the Tories has become the noisiest ‘process story’ in Westminster. One of his pals tells me the Wizard of Oz is ‘becoming furious’ about all this. Another offers a different version. ‘Crosby is already completely fucking furious about it.’
Guto Harri, one of those Boris advisers that Crosby rated so highly, just moved to an influential post at News International. Interesting to see how Harri, with a thirst for vengeance and a dangerous ally in Boris, shapes up against his sworn enemy Crosby.
And so confusion reigns at Tory campaign head-quarters. Crosby has been enlisted informally, it seems, but the terms of his contract are up for grabs. No one is sure what part he will play. Friends of the swaggering Aussie say he’s unlikely to accept a subordinate role. But Steve Hilton, who has yet to apologise for the ‘Big Society’, is also expecting a summons from Dave to work on the campaign in 2015. Quite where that leaves the Tories’ long-term strategic director, George Osborne, is unclear. Meanwhile colleagues of the thrusting new party chairman, Grant Shapps — with his telegenic hair and his ill-disguised leadership ambitions — say he won’t enjoy being ordered around by Crosby, Hilton or Osborne. The trouble emanates from the very top. Dithering Dave, who prefers a fudge to a fight, is reluctant to demote anybody, and he’s temperamentally unsuited to the job of hammering out a straightforward chain of command. As a friend in the Cabinet puts it, ‘We’ve got a clearer idea who manages the Chinese politburo than our own re-election campaign.’ It’s shaping up to be a re-run of 2010. And that went splendidly, didn’t it…
Champion TV charmer Ben Fogle displayed a flash of anger at a Johnnie Walker Blue Label tasting in the Berkeley, in Kensington, last week. He poured scorn on reality shows which brainwash kids into believing ‘you can reach the top of your career, and be the best, in just eight weeks… well, not in the real world you can’t’. Next year Fogle plans to enlighten couch potatoes about the joys of hard graft. He’s making a solo trip to America, by sea, without a boat. Yes, he’s swimming the Atlantic. Not on his back, either. Too easy. ‘Front crawl all the way,’ he confirms.
Lord McAlpine’s libel tour continues. The wrongly accused peer is in London to collect damages from shamed broadcasters, contrite journalists and numbskull Twitter addicts. His return coincides with the sad news that St Stephen’s Club in Queen Anne’s Gate is about to close its doors. McAlpine uses the cavernous basement to cellar his London wine collection, and he’s in urgent need of new lodgings for his clarets, ports and champagnes. He tells me that anyone who can offer secure storage space near Westminster should contact him at the House of Lords. No, not you, Sally.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 24 November 2012