Axe grinder 13.01.06

Fear and loathing at The Spectator

LIFE at The Spectator, once fun and merry, is rapidly turning poisonous.

Following media commentator Stephen Glover’s “sacking” from the magazine last week, I learn that political editor Peter Oborne has become disenchanted with certain aspects of the set-up.

Close friends of Oborne tell me that he considered Glover to be the mag’s best writer and is desperately upset by his abrupt departure.

Oborne is also “surprised and disheartened” after word got out that he had applied to fill the editor’s chair which was left vacant by Boris Johnson in December.

Oborne put himself up for the job in a “confidential”

letter to Aidan Barclay, CEO of the Barclay brothers’ UK interests, and also sent a copy to Andrew Neil, chief executive of The Speccie. When news of his application was leaked to The Observer’s media section, Oborne complained that it “made him look an arse”.

Though it sounds hard to believe, Neil is thought to be the only man who could have leaked the story. It is certainly true to say that Neil has done little to endear himself to staff and the fear is that he will appoint a “puppet” editor.

Glover claimed he was ditched for writing articles that upset both Neil and the Barclay brother proprietors.

“Stephen’s sacking makes a mockery of the Speccie’s so-called editorial independence,” one Spectator columnist tells me.

“Peter is now waiting to see how things develop but if he goes then others are bound to follow him through the swing doors.”

How did Neil know Kennedy was going?

IT IS Andrew Neil who can take the credit for revealing to the world that Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy was on his way out.

Way back in early December Neil told viewers of his Daily Politics show that Kennedy’s position was (I paraphrase)n looking as wobbly as the man himself.

Neil predicted that Kennedy didn’t have long. How did he know? He had heard it from an extremely good source, was all Neil would tell his audience.

Interesting that Neil’s great mate – and former co-presenter on The Daily Politics – is one Daisy McAndrew (or Sampson as she was when she sat alongside Neil).

McAndrew is the so-called “blonde assassin” and former Lib Dem spin doctor who prompted Charles Kennedy’s confession that he was an alcoholic (he announced the news to scupper her scoop).

McAndrew says, ahem, she had no intention of betraying Kennedy, but was put under pressure by her ITN bosses to bring in an exclusive. (Take what she says with a pinch of salt. When she was asked in a TV interview why Kennedy’s breath often reeked of booze, she explained: “Charlie uses a breath freshener with alcohol in it.”)n And what about Andrew Pierce of The Times? Earlier this month he revealed that Kennedy’s “position was under renewed threat” and to back it up ran some quotes from Lord McNally, leader of the Lib Dem peers in the House of Lords.

Pierce and McAndrew, I gather, “are very good mates and often round each other’s places”.

Did McAndrew steer the two Andrews?

It’s not what you know…

STICKING with the same trio, if Andrew Pierce was keen to edit The Spectator then surely Daisy McAndrew could put in a good word to the magazine’s boss, Andrew Neil?

D’Ancona: your source has misled you

SUNDAY TELEGRAPH deputy editor Matthew d’Ancona gets in touch following his appearance in Axegrinder last week. Everything that appeared here was utter bollocks, it transpires.

“For a start, I am absolutely delighted to be working for Sarah Sands and consider myself privileged to be deputy to such an outstanding editor,” says Mr d’Ancona.

He adds: “I have never considered that I was ‘passed over’, or expressed such a view to anyone. Nor would I be so arrogant as to ‘reckon’ that ‘the Barclay brothers will now give me The Speccie’. Your source is woefully misleading you.”

Sun man who knows all got it wrong

“THIS is the man who really knows,” announced The Sun last week as it excitedly told readers that George Pascoe Watson was replacing Trevor Kavanagh as the paper’s political editor.

And then in an interview with Media Guardian under the headline “I was groomed by Trevor Kavanagh”, Pascoe Watson paid tribute to Kavanagh: “… He has taught me the tricks of the trade. He taught me how to get information and how to treat information.”

Sadly, Pascoe Watson’s debut on Monday did not go well.

The man who really knows delivered a scoop that Home Office minister Hazel Blears would be moved to the Cabinet Office that day. Alas, on Tuesday morning Blears was still showing no signs of shifting.

Adversary politics mar daily relations

THERE’S more to add to the dramatic tale of James Chapman, the Daily Mail’s political correspondent who accepted a job at The Daily Telegraph… but then changed his mind at the eleventh hour and decided to stay put.

The Telegraph’s political editor George Jones has not taken it well. He blames Ben Brogan, Daily Mail political editor, for Chapman’s U-turn. When passing Brogan in the corridors of Westminster, Jones maintains a stoical silence.

But what will Jones do about his rapidly decreasing team? The Telegraph’s political brigade was once a mighty force of five people; today it is down to a modest three. The Mail’s Graeme Wilson should expect an approach from Jones, who is anxious to fill the desk that had been cleared for Chapman.

Is there a sting in the tail for ex-Mail scribes?

MEANWHILE, The Daily Telegraph may have lost Chapman, but it has managed to sign another bright spark from the Mail. Features executive Liz Hunt is leaving Kensington for the job of assistant editor at the Telegraph.

She is bound to know that the Telegraph hierarchy is full of healthy rivalry. Hunt will find herself working alongside Corina Honan, another former Mail writer. “They will be like two scorpions in the ring but Liz has the longer tail,” I am told.

Mail editor Paul Dacre tried to hang on to Hunt but to no avail. She is described as “a hard-working, single woman who unlike a lot of Mail execs, is not obviously right wing”.

Things get heavy as gym search falters

LARDY STAFF at The Independent are grumbling about the lack of a gym. Up until the middle of December they had the use of a local gym and the company picked up the bill for membership.

Indy bosses were given six weeks notice of the gym closing but they have still failed to find an alternative and staff continue to wobble around with their Christmas love handles. “Our management is not short of fatties,”

adds my source.

It could get nasty. The NUJ is likely to ballot for strike action if nothing gets sorted out soon.

Littlejohn’s grey is hair today, gone tomorrow

HERALDING Richard Littlejohn’s return to the Daily Mail (“back where he belongs”), the newspaper described him as the columnist “with the courage to write what you think”.

I’m thinking two things: 1) How long did the boys on photoshop work on his by-line pic? In Littlejohn’s mug-shot which accompanied the teaser blurb last Saturday the writer’s hair contained flecks of grey.

But the by-line snap which accompanied Littlejohn’s Tuesday column was missing the grey hair. Meanwhile, under his eyes Littlejohn once had bags that were so big customs men used to search them. The Mail’s exceptionally gifted team of airbrushers now seem to have reduced those bags to a rejuvenated purse size.

2) Is it kind of him to tell readers that the bird flu epidemic is “just a good health scare story” when on the same day the Mail’s splash is “Bird Flu: Is Turkey Safe for Holidays?”

TM regional sales: it’s a hell of a job

A GROUP of 12 Trinity Mirror Regional newspaper sales managers were at their national conference at a posh hotel in Luton. Suddenly an oil tanker swerves off a main road, smashes into the wing of the hotel where they are all staying, explodes into a ball of flames and kills them all.

Up they go to heaven where St Peter meets them at the Pearly Gates.

“Hello chaps,” he says cheerily. “Just a few routine questions to help me decide whether it’s heaven or hell for you. I need to make sure you haven’t committed any of the deadly sins.

“Question one,” he begins. “How many of you have, at least once in your career, got the news bills from editorial and thought: ‘I simply can’t be arsed with this today’, and binned them on the way back to your desk?”

Sheepishly, a couple of hands go up.

St Peter shakes his head sadly. “That’s ‘sloth’, I’m afraid. Join the queue over there marked ‘Lazy twats’.”

“Now, next question: How many of you have been having a great year on sales and, come year end, have used your budget surplus to buy up copies, up your ABCs even further and bump up your bonus even more?”

Another hand slowly rises.

“Greed,” growls St Peter. “Over there please, where it says ‘Greedy buggers’.”

“Last question: How many of you have looked at the Daily Mirror’s newspaper sales operations and said: ‘It’s a joke. If I had their resources I’d piss my targets?'”

Some nodding, then five more hands shoot up.

“Not good, I’m afraid,” says St Peter sadly. “That’s envy. Down you go. Join the queue that says ‘Jealous sods’.”

St Peter looks at the remainder, who were now walking to the ‘collect halos’


“Stop right there!” he shouts. “You four are going down too. Join the queue over there – where it says ‘Lying bastards’.”

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