How much would you stump up for the Economist? Most of us would draw the line at a fiver, but I’m told that Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York, is drawing the line at £300 million. Bloomberg is busy relocating to London and he’s poised to snap up the Financial Times later this year. But the Pink ’Un comes with a 50 per cent share in the Economist. And the small print conceals a pesky restrictive covenant that prevents the owner from replacing the editor. This is proving a drag for Bloomberg, who admires the Economist’s boss, John Micklethwait, but who sees little sense in buying a ship if he can’t appoint the captain. Enter minority shareholder Lynn Forester, Lady de Rothschild. She has money to burn and, as a Hillary Clinton fundraiser, an admirable fondness for lost causes. With her help, Pearson’s shareholders may be able to offload the Economist and then sell the FT to Bloomberg. As for the editor’s throne at the FT, I keep hearing the name of Andrew Ross Sorkin, a 36-year-old New York journalist who wrote the bestseller Too Big To Fail. Given the number of Brits running the Wall St Journal, Bloomberg may be keen on to start some reverse colonisation. The FT’s management certainly seems to expect a new broom from Bloomberg — that’s why they’re said to be discreetly sounding out the chances of a bid from Qatar.
Crikey. So it was all a publicity stunt. Comedy traitor John O’Farrell has a new book out this week. The news has caused fury among Labour’s high command who had no idea their Eastleigh candidate’s campaign might be helping to bolster his sales of his forthcoming scribble. The left’s favourite gagmeister declares that he has no plans to contest a seat in 2015. Which seems unduly modest. Surely he can dash off another book by then.
Cracked ribs. That’s the official reason for Robert Hardy’s withdrawal from the role of Churchill in a new play about the Queen’s interviews with her prime ministers. A few sceptical eyebrows have been raised. Theatre folk whisper that the 87-year-old Hardy stood aside because he kept stumbling over lines during previews. Not so, a friend tells me. Hardy deliberately seasoned his performance with a few slip-ups in order to mimic the memory lapses of an ageing Churchill. Edward Fox has been hired to give ‘the lion’s roar’ in Hardy’s place.
How do you solve a problem like Maria? After her humiliation in Eastleigh, the Tory loser Maria Hutchings is being courted by Nigel Farage as a potential Ukip candidate in May’s council elections. I shared news of this high-profile defection with a Cabinet minister. ‘Oh my God. It can’t be happening!’ he exclaimed. ‘The perfect outcome.’
‘The Pope was gay. That was the real difficulty,’ a friend in the Vatican tells me. ‘It was an open secret. He was being sodomised by an Italian cardinal so regularly that he needed medical treatment. But the two men had fallen out over a lover, so the cardinal attempted to bribe the Curia’s doctors to poison the surgical instruments and murder His Holiness during the operation.’ Cripes, I said, Ratzo did well to keep that lot quiet. ‘Oh not Ratzo,’ he said, ‘I’m talking about Pope Leo X in 1517.’ The guilty cardinal, Alfonso Petrucci, confessed and was strangled with a silk cord. Compared with the scandals of the Renaissance, the Vatican’s present woes seem like small beer.
LM for TM for PM. That’s right. Louise Mensch is backing Theresa May as her favourite to take charge when Cameron runs out of puff. ‘The government’s most senior woman,’ enthuses Mensch, ‘increasingly looks like a PM in waiting.’ Thanks for the tip, Louise. I’m off to the bookies right now to lay a thousand smackers on the Home Secretary to ride into Downing Street and devote 18 months or so to the job before shoving off to spend more time with her Twitter account, then reinvent herself as a political oracle.
Shirley Williams has revealed that the voting lobbies in Parliament were a-swarm with wandering male hands in the 1970s. She and her fellow female MPs decided to stamp on the toes of one persistent fumbler. Next day, the chastened priapist appeared in the House with a bandaged foot claiming an attack of ‘gout’. Shirl is too decent to name the ‘long dead’ molester. Suggestions anyone? At least Cyril Smith can be acquitted. Goosing ladies wasn’t his caper.