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Steerpike

Steerpike | 4 April 2013

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Chat, chat, chat. Every member of the Cabinet enjoys a good old chin-wag with their ministerial driver. Except one. Dave appears to have taken a vow of silence. For three years the PM has stoutly refused to offer a syllable of conversation from the back of his bullet-proof limo. I’m told that a sweepstake has opened up in the car pool and the first government chauffeur to hear the Prime Minister break his oath stands to win about 1,000 smackers. Not for personal gain, of course. If the PM’s elective aphasia ever comes to an end, the winner will donate the cash to a charity helping children with speech difficulties.

Has Tony Hall, who took over at the BBC this week, been aided in his starry career by his ability to cultivate political contacts? While in charge of the Royal Opera House he helped a number of senior Tories explore their love of music. Ed Vaizey, Michael Gove and George Osborne were all weclomed at Covent Garden by Lord Hall. But one leading Conservative, Iain Duncan Smith, must be grateful that he never developed a taste for such luxurious entertainments. More than 350,000 members of the public have now signed a petition demanding that IDS make good his claim that he could live on £53 a week. A couple of cheap seats for the ROH’s current production of Die Zauberflöte would set him back £220.

One of Lord Hall’s predecessors, Mark Thompson, is toiling away as chief executive of the New York Times. But he’s devised a brilliant wheeze to give his old chums at Broadcasting House a bit of extra work. Later this month his newspaper will co-host a Social Media Summit at the Times Center in New York. Thompson promises an ‘exciting line-up’ including world-class media luminaries like Matthew Eltringham, ‘Head of Website and Events at the BBC Academy College of Journalism’, and Dmitry Shishkin, ‘Digital Development Editor at BBC Global News’. These sages will discuss ‘journalism’s current use of social media and investigate the challenges ahead’. Perhaps someone at the New York Times could look up ‘exciting’ in the dictionary.

Michael Gove has been denounced by the National Union of Teachers for suggesting that nine-year-olds should be taught to memorise poetry and multiplication tables. Alex Kenny, of the NUT’s executive, declared, ‘I’m tempted to perform a citizen’s arrest on Michael Gove for crimes against the state.’ Michael himself is said to be sanguine about the threat. ‘For the arrest to be legal,’ says a chum at the education department, ‘Mr Kenny would have to recite the police caution from memory.’

Some more detail on the glamorous new career for which the fratricide victim and former prime-minister-in-waiting David Miliband has ditched his northern constituents. The charismatic and intelligent Labour loser is to serve as president of the International Rescue Committee based in New York. This august and dashingly named body sets out ‘to help people rebuild their lives’ and ‘to restore dignity and hope’. Sounds great. I wonder if it does anything for people other than its president?

Justin Welby has done it again. The new Archbishop of Canterbury is keeping the commentariat guessing about his real political views. Before his enthronement he delivered a quasi-Trotskyite attack on the coalition’s welfare reforms. He claimed the cuts would push 200,000 children into poverty. But on Easter Sunday he articulated a classic Tory principle by warning us not to put too much faith in politicians. A friend at Lambeth Palace explains, ‘Justin’s a pretty wily operator, and he’s greasing both sides of the wheel at the same time. Don’t forget, his first calling was as an oilman.’

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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