Diary – Tuesday 12 July 1994


Current subject of hot debate at Labour’s headquarters in Walworth Road is the fate of Jack Straw, Tony Blair’s campaign manager and Labour’s local government spokesman to boot. Promotion, providing Blair attains the leadership, is almost certain. The question, however, is which post the 47-year-old MP for Blackburn will get.

Most widely touted options are those of party campaign manager and shadow Home Secretary. Shorter odds are on campaign manager at present, however, mainly because Straw successfully took over the running of the Euro-election campaign when Margaret Beckett was forced to become acting leader after John Smith’s death.

‘He will have won three campaigns for Labour when Blair is elected,’ said a colleague who did not wish to be named.

‘He has proved himself a tough campaigner. I’m sure he’d like the job.’ One faction which must be hoping that Blair offers him the campaign job in October rather than home affairs is the Royal Family. Straw has made no secret of his view that the monarchy’s power should be diluted – a view echoed by Tony Blair’s other campaign manager, Mo Mowlam. . .she too is set for a big promotion.

Crime-writers, one supposes, ought to be the last people to be duped by petty criminals; not so, according to Harry Keating, inventor of the Indian detective Inspector Ghote. Keating was recently approached by a window-cleaner who offered to clean his windows or a remarkably small sum. The man mentioned one of Keating’s neighbours and explained, how, after a job there, he was mugged while pocketing his earnings. Keating listened sympathetically, and paid him in advance; the man said he would post the money through the letter-box should it rain. It did not rain; nor, of course, did Keating get his windows cleaned.

The Prime Minister’s role has not always endured as much scrutiny as today, as a letter to be exhibited later this month by the Imperial War Museum demonstrates. Lord Asquith (prime minister from 1908 to 1916) wrote in 1915 to Lady Stanley, wife of the Governor of the Australian state of Victoria, relating an incident involving Lady Maud Tree, the stylish society actress. ‘Lady Tree said to me at the end of a drive the other day with a most ingenuous smile: ‘Do you take an interest in the war?’ he scribbled. His reply? ‘Well I do, rather. . .’

Bosses at the BBC were mildly annoyed last week, when, upon telephoning Margaret Beckett at the Commons to do an interview in their Millbank studio 200 yards down the road, her office replied: ‘Only if you send a car for her.’

The Beeb, rightly, decided not to bother. Not only does Mrs Beckett possess her own chauffeur-driven machine, but, whisper the more malicious types in the Millbank studios, her hair-do has been coming closer and closer, recently, to another Margaret’s. . .

The hot weather is bringing considerable financial advantage to the V&A, where hordes of passers-by – mostly English – are paying the pounds 4.75 entrance fee to sit down and fan themselves in the pews which comprise part of the Pugin exhibition. Not that these people are particularly interested in their environs, apparently. ‘We just hope that they will take in one or two of the pieces,’ sighed a spokeswoman yesterday.

Much excitement in the Fulham offices of PR Jenny Halpern, twenty-something daughter of fashion magnate Sir Ralph. No 1 Lawrence Street, Chelsea, the literati club she is opening in September, is signing up members. First to join are ballerina Darcey Bussell and actor Richard E Grant, paving the way, she hopes, for other highbrow celebrities to flock over from the Groucho. ‘The idea,’ explains a spokeswoman, ‘is to attract those who are fed up with forcing their way into the West End every night.’ Endless names spring to mind, but Miss Halpern and her colleagues are rightly selective. ‘Should Orlando Campbell, the proprietor of Mayfair’s Green Street, be worried?’ I asked. Answer: ‘This is not going to be a club for just anyone.’