Many are the mysteries of the Catholic Church. The latest concerns the takings at Westminster Cathedral, which have suddenly soared by thousands of pounds a week. The priests, who for years bemoaned the stinginess of their flock, are said to be delighted by this outbreak of largesse among the faithful. They’re also rather puzzled. A long-running rumour suggested that someone close to the Cathedral was skimming the plate. The police were called in but could find no evidence of wrongdoing. As the coffers swell, the mystery deepens.
The obituaries of Sir Stuart Bell have revealed a host of fascinating details about the twice-married Middlesbrough MP. The 74-year-old spoke fluent French, practised law in France in the 1970s, and penned a novel suggestively entitled Paris 69. Since 2006, the Légion d’Honneur dangled proudly from his chest. His death has come as a personal blow to a charming Commons employee who sought his assistance during a crisis and begged him to help her acquire a shiny new pair of boob implants. Only recently she was inviting female colleagues in the House to road-test her new silicon rotundities with an exploratory squeeze. ‘Goodness,’ I said tactfully to my informant. ‘And did you “cop a feel” yourself?’ ‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘but not as big a handful as Sir Stuart.’
Always a friend to those in distress, Mr Steerpike popped into the Ecuadorian embassy to present his compliments to Mr Julian Assange. The famous rape suspect is said to be feeling bored, isolated and depressed as he languishes in his deluxe broom cupboard on the fourth floor. I offered him three stimulating challenges: a game of chess, a round of speed-backgammon, or a hacking and decryption competition. ‘First one inside the Pentagon gets a packet of Smarties,’ I suggested. Outside, I chatted to a friendly bobby who disclosed that Assange had recently been favoured with a lengthy personal visitation from Yoko Ono. No wonder he’s feeling bored, isolated and depressed.
Is George Osborne about to be replaced as the Tories’ re-election chief? Lynton Crosby, the Australian spin-meister who helped steer Boris to two mayoral victories in London, has recently moved to the capital from his native Oz. Our paths crossed at the launch party for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new flick, and I asked him bluntly if he’d been approached to become Dave’s new head of strategy. ‘Business is good,’ he smiled obliquely. Fair enough. So we chatted about Boris’s long-terms regarding No. 10. ‘I’m not sure I like the idea of Boris’s finger on the nuclear button,’ said Crosby with a rich laugh. At this point Arnie — a keen Boris-watcher — joined in our guffaws. Perhaps he was imagining the start of a hilarious new disaster movie.
It seems ages since Louise Mensch was a rising star of the Conservative right. Shortly before the ex-MP dashed off to Manhattan to spend less time with her party, she asked No. 10 to fix her up with a nice little job at United Nations HQ. Was she serious or just having a laugh? In Downing Street, they weren’t sure either.
Cloaks, daggers, plots and conspiracies. I hear that Phillip Blond, the eccentric left-wing Tory traditionalist, was deeply impressed by Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ speech at the Labour conference. Blond is already good mates with socialist pin-up Chuka Umunna, and with the ‘conscience of the left’, Jon Cruddas. Given his status as a ‘Red Tory’, he seems ripe for a takeover bid. A new rumour suggests that Miliband’s wingman, Lord Wood, has been despatched to persuade the Conservative oddball to disappear into the changing room and re-emerge as a Blue Socialist. ‘Good God no,’ Blond says when I ask if he’s tempted to join the Two Eds. ‘But it’s always fun to be pursued. And I have to commend their judgment.’
I can finally reveal who is responsible for the Freedom of Information Act. At the LSE last week, the political pundit Lord Hennessy gave a lecture in which he reminded the audience that Tony Blair regarded FOI as one of the gravest blunders of his career. ‘I was such a fool,’ said Lord Hennessy, quoting the former PM’s autobiography, ‘to bring it in. Or something like that. I can’t remember his exact words.’
‘Where was Sir Humphrey when I needed him?’ growled a voice from the back of the hall. The speaker, Robin Butler, had good reason to remember the quotation in full. He served as cabinet secretary to Blair and was the ‘Sir Humphrey’ in question.
‘Well, Robin?’ said Lord Hennessy amiably. ‘Was it after your time?’ ‘I’m afraid it wasn’t,’ replied Butler, sinking sheepishly into his chair. Mystery solved.