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Tony Hall’s successor, organic government and the great Lib Dem shale plot

8 December 2012

9:00 AM

8 December 2012

9:00 AM

Rending of raiment and gnashing of teeth at the Guardian. I’m told that the paper’s veteran editor, Alan Rusbridger, is tipped to take over at the Royal Opera House once the BBC’s director-general designate, Tony Hall, relinquishes control. Quite a wrench for Rusbridger, who has stewarded the profit-averse newspaper since 1995. Last year alone he amassed losses of £44 million, so he’ll be relieved to know that the Opera House comes with an annual subsidy of £28 million from the Arts Council. Rusbridger was coy when Steerpike asked him about making a move this week, though he denied having spoken to anyone at the Royal Opera House.

Fans of Rusbridger insist that he never intended to turn a profit at the Guardian, and that he has a deep personal contempt for wealth. Indeed, his salary fell to just £476,000 this year. Back in 2004, Rusbridger presented a slot on Radio 3 where he selected tunes from Marc Blitzstein’s socialist musical, The Cradle Will Rock. In the show, two artists deride the shallowness of a greedy steel boss. ‘There’s something so damn low about the rich/ They’re far-fetched. They’re just funny./ They’ve no impulse. No fine feeling. No great itch./ What have they got? Money.’

Rusbridger would have to keep these feelings to himself if he moved to Covent Garden. Cultivating billionaires is a key part of the job.

Over at the Guardian website, outraged republicans have posted dozens of disobliging messages about Kate and William’s happy news. ‘More benefit scroungers,’ commented one aggrieved soul. ‘Dumb Sloane breeding-stock impregnated to keep the royalist momentum going while everyone else’s life turns to crap,’ fumed another, not quite capturing the mood of jubilation spreading across the country. ‘Just another hugely extended family living on welfare,’ scoffed a third revolutionary. But these angry voices are supported by a most unlikely figure. Prince Charles himself, I hear, concurs with the ‘extended family of scroungers’ argument. His plan is to use the royal birth as an opportunity to downsize the Firm and to send moulting also-rans like Prince Andrew and Prince Edward off to the Winalot factory. A friend from Clarence House reminds me of the time when Charles met a leading Chinese communist at a Green conference ten years ago. The communist was keen to advertise his eco-awareness and he congratulated the prince on being part of the greenest constitution on earth. Charles expressed some puzzlement. The communist explained: ‘Most countries choose a new head of state by an election or by a revolution. In Britain you grow yours organically.’

The combative Lib Dem Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has unleashed a new weapon against Tory ministers who oppose his eco-friendly policies: the frack-attack. Staff at the Energy Department tell me that Mr Davey has spent weeks poring over geological survey maps and searching for shale deposits lurking beneath the constituencies of his eco-foes. He struck lucky last week and discovered that North Shropshire and Tatton are top targets for gas prospectors. As it happens, both these idyllic demesnes are represented by leading Cabinet eco-sceptics: the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the turbine-trashing Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson. The following day a story appeared in the Independent suggesting that both ministers may regret their all-hail-to-shale attitudes if fracking becomes a reality in their backyards. The Independent painted an infernal picture of bosky meadows being disfigured by unsightly shale-rigs, of smoking juggernauts thundering across charming rural lanes, and of tea crockery being dislodged by minor earthquakes and smashing on the flagstones of cosy Tory hearths. The piece aimed a particularly barbed comment at George Osborne by reminding readers that Tatton’s voters were swift to unseat Neil Hamilton in 1997 when he became a local hate-figure.

Mr Davey’s colleagues deny there was any hostile intent in the story. ‘He’s aiming to help Cabinet friends see the upside of renewables, that’s all.’

Which of us has the worst case of Leveson-fatigue? Answer: the author of the report himself. Yes, the distinguished Middle Templar is said to be fed up with the whole topic of press freedom, tweeting rights, statutory curbs, last chance saloons and yada yada yada. Hence his brusque revelation at last week’s press conference that his contribution to the debate had closed for ever.

Unfortunately, he’s chosen to enjoy a post-Leveson chill-out session in Australia, of all places, where the subject of press freedom obsesses the entire media. Leveson will never escape Leveson.

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