A Londoner’s diary

Paternity is destiny, Blair battles, BBC’s men at the top, WikiLeaks . . . and what next for Peter M

Paternity is destiny

I've been making a BBC Radio 4 documentary about political fathers, a chance to brood on paternal influences from Pitt the Younger, who used to recite speeches in Latin and Greek when he was eight, to the Milibands, who probably had firm views on the parliamentary road to socialism at a similar age.

It's the detail that delights. Margaret Jay, the daughter of the former Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan, says that on the day of her father's landslide defeat in 1979 he already had his cases packed. The Callaghans lunched sombrely on shepherd's pie - only to discover that the same dish was ready to be served to Margaret Thatcher in the evening. "So there was continuity in that."

She took her dad's defeat rather more equably than Annabel Heseltine, who surprised me with the vehemence of her comments about Mrs T's "conniving" nature for insisting that the cabinet pledge not to vote for her father, Michael, in the 1990 leadership rumble. "I'll never forgive her," Annabel says. "That's not democracy." The best feuds are hereditary.

More family ishoos

The star double act are the Benns, interviewed together. Dad Tony is frail but talkative - I get the impression sometimes a bit too much so for son Hilary's comfort. They admit they do argue about politics and Tony says he once got so carried away arguing about Tony Blair that he had to call Hilary afterwards to say sorry. He wasn't that sorry, though. "He can't change my mind about Afghanistan," says Benn père firmly. "It's another Vietnam."

Brains and brawn

I find my BBC colleagues unsure whether to despair over their slashed pensions, or be relieved at the four-year TV licence fee freeze.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, came in threatening a kind of culture war on the Beeb and making weekly demands that it close down something or other, only to baulk at the amputation of even titchy 6 Music. Now the Tories want money, not blood - and some sharp last-minute manoeuvring by the director general, Mark Thompson, has fended off a full-scale war on the corporation.

I gather that Mr T wants to remain in the job for the next few years, which is frustrating some lieutenants. But where else will the Beeb find an intellectual boss who can also go mano-a-mano with George Osborne in negotiations at 3am? Keep a hold of Nurse, I'd say.

Licence to vote?

What Mr T - and the poor bloody infantry of licence-fee payers - badly need is a principled and credible chair of the BBC Trust. Who truly thinks it represents viewers' interests in its present dithery form?

Two other heads attracting the hunters are the once euro-crazy businessman Niall FitzGerald, of Thomson Reuters, and Mark Wood, who used to head ITN and Reuters. Given the BBC's overcommitment to European integration in the 1990s, I'd have thought FitzGerald might be a hostage to fortune. Wood is cerebral, experienced and not too close to the Beeb behemoth, so he'd get my vote, if mere licence-fee payers were ever trusted with such a thing.

Hunt's off this weekend

The headhunter for this particular snark is an old friend of David Cameron's, the very personable Dom Loehnis. I well remember Cam­eron giving the best man's speech at Dom's wedding, in which he recalled Dom's mother phoning Mrs Cameron the night before the two were due to spend a boozy weekend at her house. "Just one piece of advice," warned Mrs Loehnis: "either stock it up, or lock it up."

Relight his fire

At the Spectator's recent parliamentary awards, I bumped into Peter Mandelson in his tuxedo, the James Bond of Labour politics, who has lived not only twice, but thrice, and possibly frice. What's next for Peter? He is still one of the sharpest minds the party possesses, and shouldn't be consigned solely to award-giving and cocktail parties.

Now that we have Ed Miliband and his irreproachably bland colleagues running Labour, who is going to provide us with a decent quota of intrigue? It's not that the dear leader has done anything wrong so far; just that he hasn't said a single thing to remember and he needs to project a personality as well as a position.

In private, he has always been good company and irreverent. Heed Take That, Ed - let it shine.

Vanishing act

Off to that great gathering of contemporary art Brahmins, Art Basel Miami Beach. It has the advantage of being conducted in a balmy 70° while London shivers. We arrive at the hotel to find collectors, moneymen and those leggy women with no particular purpose, milling around at a reception. Absolutely everyone is tanned and groomed down to their glossy eyelash extensions. Except us.

A well-connected acquaintance struggles to find a suitably flattering introduction. "My friends are political journalists," she says. It's amazing how quickly you can empty a room.

Attack of the cyber-munchkins

What a modern Wizard of Oz moment the WikiLeaks saga is. All the technological whizz-bangery of the most powerful nation on earth can't stop it being hacked by cyber-munchkins. Thus we discover that Prince Andrew doesn't like investigative journalists, Nicolas Sarkozy is "thin-skinned and authoritarian", and stolid Angela Merkel is "risk-averse". Who knew? All worth it, though, for the moment the American ambassador rolled up to No 10 to express regrets that the brightest and best at the US state department had thought Gordon Brown and David Cameron underwhelming. Not that they seemed to like anyone very much - a vital precondition for diplomatic life.

Anne McElvoy is political columnist of the London Evening Standard
She presents "Archive on 4: Political Patriarchs" on Radio 4, Saturday 4 December, at 8pm

This article first appeared in the 06 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Vietnam: the last battle