Tricky Dicky: Richard Desmond in June. Photo: Getty
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Common Confidential: Dirty Des flirts with Nige to make Dave jealous

My informant whispered that Dirty Des is frustrated that a £1.2bn fortune has bought him everything except respect.

Richard Desmond yearns to be embraced by the establishment. In flirting with Nigel Farage, the media tycoon might hope to catch David Cameron’s eye. My informant whispered that Dirty Des is frustrated that a £1.2bn fortune has bought everything except respect. He donates noisily to charities and yet critics whisper disapprovingly about Horny Housewives and TV porn. So Dirty Des, who slipped Tony Blair £100,000 in 2001, canoodles with Nigel to make Dave jealous. But would Desmond guarantee his newspapers’ election support for the Tories rather than Ukip if Cameron recognised the pornographer’s contribution to public life? Arise, Sir Dirty Des, or Lord Desmond of Asian Babes?

The Twitter spat between Labour’s Ivan Lewis and Tom Watson over the party’s contest for a new leader in Scotland continued, I’m told, when the pair bumped into each other outside Ed Miliband’s office. Ed’s aide Anna Yearley had to ask the battling MPs to pipe down because the interns were disturbed by the swearing. On the upside, both Lewis and Watson showed a fighting spirit often lacking in the leadership.

With austerity cuts of £1.5m imposed on Kew Gardens, Chancellor George Osborne is as popular with staff threatened by redundancy as a plague of locusts. This could prove tricky. A mole muttered that Osborne’s mother, Lady Felicity, gives her son a season ticket to the botanical gardens as an annual gift.

The Goulash Co-operative, formed to buy the Gay Hussar restaurant in London, is to stage an all-day “eat-in” on 8 December after the Malaysian owners refused to sell the Soho haunt, which is still threatened with closure. Union Jimmys Airlie and Reid, who led the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in to save the shipyard from Ted Heath’s axe, will be smiling as they chew their celestial sandwiches.

It’s the end of a Sunday sofa era as Barney Jones steps down after over 20 years as editor, first of Breakfast with Frost, and then of The Andrew Marr Show. Jones has often been filmed at the entrance to the BBC meeting leaders of the opposition and prime ministers. A school caretaker once remarked they did similar jobs, clearing up after others. Jones, to his credit, agreed.

I owe a Tory informant an eclair after Jeremy Paxman confirmed this column’s disclosure in July that the Conservatives wanted him to run for London mayor. Pity, really. I’d have loved to watch Paxman’s former BBC colleagues grill a poacher-turned-gamekeeper.

Being Mark Reckless is a lonely business. The Tory defector to Ukip was spied eating lunch alone, facing the wall, in parliament’s terrace café. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Deep trouble

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.