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Steerpike

Steerpike: Begging with the archbishop, dining with rebels, and playing Shakespeare

18 May 2013

9:00 AM

18 May 2013

9:00 AM

Begging bowls are out at Canterbury cathedral. Anglicanism’s principal shrine is in danger of toppling over if its custodians can’t raise an emergency fund of £17.8 million needed to shore up the nave, two wobbly towers and Christchurch Gate. A bid for £10.2 million to save the cathedral from the forces of gravity has just been rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Canons may even shut the cathedral to worshippers while they finalise a last-ditch scheme to cadge the dough from US philanthropists. Failing that, they could try flogging the old ruin to the Emir of Qatar. He seems to own everything else these days.
 
Chris Grayling, affectionately known as ‘Uncle Fester’ in Downing Street, has vowed to sweep Britain’s prisons clean of drugs. The justice secretary will launch ‘a real, intensive in-your-face drive’ to stop narcotics from entering the system. The ‘criminal fraternity’, as he quaintly labels them, have successfully evaded the authorities by hurling contraband over prison walls stuffed inside tennis balls or attached to fireworks. One inventive dealer threw a dead pigeon crammed with heroin into the grounds of a jail in Yorkshire. The word from Uncle Fester is that such ‘ingenious methods’ will be combated with ‘really valuable new technologies’. Like asking a prison officer to stand near the wall with his eyes open.
 
I hear that rebel Conservatives have formed an exclusive dining club inside the Commons. Membership cards are handed out to dissident Tories who have defied the whips, voted against the coalition or snubbed ministers offering jobs or five-star freebies abroad. So secretive is the society that its name is changed on a regular basis. Last month it was ‘Nadine’s diners’. This month it’s to be renamed ‘Phil’s long-haul café’ with ‘Hammond eggs’ topping the menu, in honour of the Defence Secretary’s support for ‘eggsit’ from the EU.
 
‘Wouldn’t Shakespeare be awesome?’ mused Mike Tyson after finishing his one-man stage show in America. ‘Could you imagine me in Othello?’ What a marvellous opportunity for British theatre. I penned a quick note to the RSC boss, Greg Doran, suggesting that he invite the crowd-pleasing New York pugilist to make his Shakespearean debut on the main stage at Stratford. I floated the names of Vinnie Jones as Iago and Monica Lewinsky as Desdemona. No reply so far.
 
Chris Huhne’s new ornamental leg-bracelet emits a digital beep every 30 seconds which records his exact location on a computerised convict-tracker at the Home Office. Aides for the deputy prime minister have asked to be tipped off if Huhne comes within 100 metres of Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader is desperate not to be photographed anywhere near his disgraced former colleague. And what of the liberated jailbird himself? As an ex-offender with two months’ experience of prison life, Mr Huhne would be well suited to an unpaid internship at the Ministry of Justice, which is keen to recruit more socially excluded volunteers. But Mr Huhne’s friends predict that he’ll follow the Jonathan Aitken route and become a celebrity penitent on daytime TV. As for Vicky Pryce, she already has bold plans to ‘resume her former career’. Sadly, there’s not much call for Chris Huhne impersonators these days.
 
Former Tory donor Lord Ashcroft has been seen having lunch with key Miliband henchman Tom Watson in a Westminster bistro. Senior Tories seem relaxed about the meeting. ‘Of course they wanted to be spotted,’ explains one, ‘or they wouldn’t have chosen a restaurant 300 yards from the Commons. Any further away and no one would have had a clue who they are.’
 
Pity the poor citizens of Tower Hamlets in east London. The council free-sheet, East End Life, features just five photographs of the mayor, Lutfur Rahman, in the current edition. But his fans were more than compensated by their idol’s first ‘My Diary’ column, which carried news that the mayor had met Unite boss Len McCluskey at a ‘hub of creativity’ run by the union. Mr Rahman also visited a medical centre which inspired him to share this scientific breakthrough with his grateful electors. ‘Raising awareness of health issues is important in Tower Hamlets and I was delighted to see numerous stalls and advice being given to residents.’
 
Now it all becomes clear. James Harding, a keen Europhile, was ousted from the editorship of the Times to make way for the more sceptical John Witherow. Word has it that Roop is about to order the Thunderer to declare itself for the Out campaign. It’s a case of when, not if.


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