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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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.