George Osborne’s cosiness with the Murdoch empire is, I am told, an underexplored branch of political intrigue. Boy George didn’t, unlike his line manager, David Cameron, go horse riding with Rebekah Brooks’s husband. Nor did he pose as a weekend squire with the ludicrous Chipping Norton set. But the supposed master political strategist (excuse me while I laugh) and Chancellor of the Exchequer apparently used to boast privately of his links to the Sun King’s court.
It was Osborne who persuaded Cameron that the former News of the World editor Andy “I Knew Nothing” Coulson was suitable to be the Conservative Party’s media head honcho. And James Murdoch disclosed that he and his family visited Osborne at Dorneywood, Boy George’s grace-and-favour home.
The joy of politicians falling out is that everybody’s grassing each other up ahead of appearances before Lord Justice Leveson. Thus, a cabinet informant alleges that Osborne was the key Conservative contact with News Corp, which put its papers at the disposal of the Tories and secured an official green light to swallow BSkyB whole. If Jeremy Hunt was the minister for Murdoch, my snout mutters, Osborne was the more senior secretary of state.
Two members of the Con-Dem coalition getting along famously are Vince Cable and Michael Heseltine. I’m told that the Methuselahs (joint age: 147) agree on so much that often they sound like party colleagues since Vinny, the Lib Dem Business Secretary, gave Lord Hezza an office in the Tory Tarzan’s former Whitehall department. During discussions on industrial policy, whispers my source, the couple jointly identify the block to reviving British manufacturing as “Osborne”. He is never referred to as “George” and rarely by a formal “Chancellor”; his surname is uttered with a sneer. Young George’s much-heralded “march of the makers” elicits snorts of derision from the old boys.
Word comes down to Westminster from the Scottish Highlands of a blow for Osborne’s Lib Dem Muppet, Danny “Beaker” Alexander. The Treasury cutter’s hopes of grabbing Charles Kennedy’s neighbouring parliamentary seat when his own falls victim to the coalition’s Highland clearance is provoking an uprising against a minister seen as a Tory stooge. According to this column’s tartan correspondent, the talk of the ceilidhs is that Beaker’s Aviemore croft would be moved, not into Kennedy’s enlarged Inverness and Skye kingdom, but to the Moray fiefdom of the Separatist National Party’s Westminster chieftain, Angus Robertson. Locality is identity in the Highlands and packing Charlie off to the Lords wouldn’t help Beaker’s prospects.
Do you remember when Ed Balls took an awkward-looking Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves into a Greggs to protest against the snack tax? I’ve learned since that only Beefy Balls consumed one of the sausage rolls the trio bought for £4.70. A delicious snippet that would’ve added to the surrealism of the stunt, had we known at the time.
Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror