The shadow chancellor George Osborne has been lunching privately with the textiles magnate Richard Caring, the Labour-supporting businessman who got caught up in the cash for peerages investigation. It is less than a year since Osborne demonstrated a catastrophic failure of judgment by being lured onto a yacht owned by the disreputable Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. After the Deripaska episode Osborne promised to have nothing more to do with political funding. Yet here he is consorting with another party donor. What on earth does the shadow chancellor think he is doing?
To Northamptonshire for cricket against my friend William Sitwell. I ask his mother for a guided tour of the house. In due course we reach the gloomy room which had been the study of Sacheverell, William’s grandfather, and Mrs Sitwell told us a story. ‘After the [first world] war,’ she said, ‘my father-in-law went to Paris and got to know some painters. On his deathbed Modigliani offered him the contents of his studio for £400. So Sachy asked his father Sir George for the money. But Sir George said no.’ Later Sacheverell lined up another of his artist chums, a promising youngster called Pablo Picasso, to paint the frescoes of their Italian villa, Castello di Montegufoni in Tuscany. But crafty Sir George blocked that too. We thrashed Sitwell’s abject team.
For the second time running a Labour prime minister has imposed on the Secret Intelligence Service a chief it did not want. John Scarlett, Tony Blair’s choice, was accepted under sufferance. John Sawers. Gordon Brown’s appointee, is being greeted with something not far off rebellion.
Meanwhile the political class reckons it’s got away with it. Each political leader has cunningly sacrificed a handful of backbenchers, such as the blameless and irreproachable Douglas Hogg.