Curses, foiled again. The spy boss who can’t catch a break
• Arise Mark Sedwill, who ascends to the post of permanent secretary at the Home Office. Many wish him well, for Sedwill, currently director general (political) at the Foreign Office, is a popular man. At the same time, there will be sadness for Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, who seemed a shoo-in until the Mail on Sunday laid before the public his relationship with Theresa May’s special adviser Fiona Cunningham. He had also hoped to become the head of MI6, but that didn’t work out either. He’s top drawer, no doubt about it. But he doesn’t seem very lucky.
• Good luck to Andrew Gowers, erstwhile editor of the Financial Times, who has accepted the challenge of buffing up the image of our favourite toxic-waste dumper, Trafigura. He’s a good pick. After leading Lehman Brothers’ communications operation until the firm’s collapse, he oversaw BP’s spin operation during the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Fortune smiles on him, to much the same extent as Charles Farr.
• Wasn’t Grant Shapps just the man to rubbish the view of the cross-party local government select committee that councillors are underpaid? Also to denounce Labour’s support for a review as “cynical and sleazy“. They are volunteers; they get more than enough, the party chairman said, despite concern that poor finances deter the young and low-paid from becoming involved in local politics. Shapps wasn’t distracted by that municipal frippery himself, of course. He went from university to business and got mighty rich. How rich we do not know precisely, but his bizarre alter ego Michael Green was said to be worth a cool £17m. And on days when Grant Shapps has been happy to be Grant Shapps, he has been a sight in his private plane. An exemplar for the aspiring councillor, don’t you think?
• Behold, a scandal, said Yvette Cooper, voicing her concern in the Commons about the fugitive Ibrahim Magag. He went missing from his terrorism prevention and investigation measure by hopping into a London taxi. “Magag is still missing after 13 days and clearly the home secretary has no idea where he is,” said Cooper. That’s bad. But these things are relative. Writing in the February edition of the Oldie, reader Clive Turner points out that one John Hannan, who escaped from the Verne prison in Dorset in December 1955, having completed only one month of his sentence for assaulting two police officers, has now been free for 57 years. He holds the world record for the longest escape from custody, beating the American Leonard Fristoe of Nevada by 11 years. It is understood that Dorset police are not actively looking for him, but at the same time officers are ever vigilant. He may have info about Lord Lucan.
• Rejoicing in Whitehall, meanwhile, as the Tory fiefdom of Hammersmith and Fulham announces yet another cut in council tax. They may have taken the knife to services to achieve it. But a cut’s a cut, and Eric Pickles is delighted. “Once again, Hammersmith & Fulham is leading the way in saving taxpayers’ money and cutting out waste and inefficiency. Other councils across the country should follow its example,” he says. Hammersmith also cites approval from Matthew Elliott, “founder of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Britain’s non-partisan grassroots campaign for lower taxes”. It’s “a shining example of a low-tax borough. Other local authorities up and down the UK should learn from them, follow their example, and deliver better services and lower council tax for their residents,” he says. But then, nobody is fooled by the “non-partisan” bit. Wasn’t Elliott one of the signatories to Roger Scruton’s letter outlining the rightwing plot to save Britain’s institutions from their “organised capture” by the left?
• Finally, to Alan Bennett’s Diary for 2012, which appears in the latest edition of the London Review of Books, specifically the entry for 2 May . “Jeremy Hunt has the look of an estate agent waiting to show someone a property,” says Bennett, ever wise. He does, doesn’t he?