Cherchez le sleaze…

Nice to see Matthew Norman, in yesterdays Indy, adding yet another layer of murk to to the already overloaded tale of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Casino and the dome…

AS ALWAYS when the delectable scent of mild governmental scandal is on the breeze, the question is cherchez le Murdoch.

With Bloggerheads moving servers, that’s not a question that us bloggers have got around to… yet. Do go on, Matthew…

With John Prescott and the super-casino man, the search is gratifyingly brief. Lobbying for Philip Anschutz was one Matthew Freud, Rupert’s son-in-law and host, we learn, of a dinner party that gathered Mr Anschutz and our excellent media, culture and sport secretary Tessa Jowell, the genius nominally responsible for the liberalisation of gaming law.

Mmm. Sounds interesting already – the Minister responsible for gaming law, although not for whatever it was her husband’s been getting up to with the mortgage, has been breaking bread – probably ciabatta – with the man who want’s a casino.

Before anyone succumbs to conspiracy theorising, we ought to make it clear that this soirée had nothing to do with casinos. The fact that Matthew’s Freud Communications is retained for the Anschutz Entertainment Group as "strategic consultants" is irrelevant. In just the way that Mr Prescott spent his time at Mr Anschutz’s Colorado ranch discussing William Wilberforce and the harvesting of sugar beet, so Tessa failed to divulge any information "that was not freely available in the newspapers".

Well of course she did, didn’t she.

Am I missing something here or is the general impression that givernment are trying to create here – which Matthew is quite sardonically puncturing – is that Phi Anschutz, a billionaire businessman, is complete and utter imbecile. The guy’s got, reportedly, a minimum £250 million investment riding on the outcome of the award of the casino licence, and yet never, ever, discusses it whenever there’s captive minister in the room.

On other occasions, as when reneging on her predecessor’s deal to keep live Test cricket on terrestrial TV after being lobbied by Matthew’s brother-in-law James Murdoch, the top man at Sky, she has deigned to discuss commercial matters with those bidding for lucrative deals. This time, it was entirely different.

I don’t suppose that was ever discussed over dinner either…

There are other hints of eerie coincidence, such as the departure of a senior member of Matthew’s staff a year ago to work as special adviser for a certain Tessa Jowell. But those of us increasingly fatigued by the incessant sneering and cynicism that attends reporting of Government affairs accept that Tessa and Mr Anschutz passed a delightful evening discussing Proust, athletics, comparative methods of growing sweet potatoes and the vexing question of whatever happened to "Barbie Girl" singer Lene from Aqua.

Another special advisor – what a surprise? Once upon a time, it used to be that politicians would leave the Commons for the boardroom, taking their little book of governmental contacts with them, in return for one of the lovely non-executive directorships that pays them a shed load of money for a couple of days work a month – now it runs the other way and business cuts out the middle man by getting ‘placeman’ jobs in government.

I wonder how many Tory MPs realise just how badly this kind of the thing cuts into their traditional retirement plan…

Last word, quite appropriately, to Matthew…

Warmest congratulations to Matthew, then, for keeping even the appearance of impropriety at his table. I’m so impressed that just this once we won’t pose the usual question to Professor Steve Jones and other leading geneticists (if it really is all about heredity, how exactly did we get from Sigmund to Matthew in just three generations?)

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