Hugh Muir’s diary

A lesson for Sir Philip Green. No rest for the tax-efficient

• A break is as good as a rest, they say, and with his workload, business magnate Sir Philip Green is entitled to a bit of rest and recuperation. Away from the boardroom hurly-burly. Away from all that controversy about the tax he did or didn’t pay. The Greek isle of Skiathos seemed just the ticket for the multimillionaire. But how to get away from it all, in this day and age? Practically impossible. And so it was that pretty quickly, he and his yacht were spotted by two activists from the group UK Uncut. First, according to their account, they confronted him personally. Alas, the conversation they hoped for did not ensue. Then they commandeered the necessary materials and a marker pen to create bright placards bearing slogans about Sir Philip and his tax responsibilities – material too libellous to repeat here. It all became quite a spectacle. The mayor turned up to plead for the resumption of calm. Then the police. The next day, when the protesting pair returned, Sir Philip and his yacht had gone. Over the horizon, away from the hubbub. Destination: peace and quiet.

• Fury over the Hillsborough revelations continues unabated, with Sir Norman Bettison, who was part of the South Yorkshire police inquiry, refusing to quit as chief constable of West Yorkshire. Most unedifying. No one would willingly change places with him. That’s why at Scotland Yard they’re ready for any collateral damage. The commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, was indeed at South Yorkshire, his people say quick as a flash, but over the relevant period he was away on study leave. Scouts, top cops. Pays in both cases to be prepared.

• Gloom threatens at the end of our glorious summer of sport. So here’s something to cheer us up. It’s all about an official called Katherine Kerswell, who received a £420,000 payoff in June when she left the chief executive’s job at Kent county council. Her salary there was £197,000, but Kent’s a go-ahead place, and they have decided they don’t need a chief executive. Still, talent will out, again and again. And so, excellent to record that Kerswell has now been appointed director-general for civil service reform in the Cabinet Office, where she will work alongside the head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake. Salary there, £142,000. The Local Government Chronicle points out that, as chief officer in Northamptonshire, she urged underlings to think of their organisation as “strawberry flavoured”. Just the sort of insight the civil service needs.

• More on those wayward sorts at Ukip. They’re up in arms over Liberal Democrat accusations that they are the no-show lead-swingers of the European parliament. Not so, says Ukip. We are diligent. We do show up to meetings. But that may not be such a good thing, because once there, they just can’t help behaving badly. Godders “Eight pints” Bloom was exiled for hurling a Nazi jibe, and the leader, Nigel Farage, famously went verbal at EU president Herman Van Rompuy, accusing him of having “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”. Farage was fined £2,700, and has since been fighting this miscarriage of justice. But we note that his latest appeal has now been brushed aside. Shocking, really. He should hire Michael Mansfield.

• Finally, we mentioned Stephen Gilbert, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell & Newquay, who said he was the only MP at the last election still living with his parents. That’s nothing, says the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury. As Eric Lubbock, MP for Orpington, said, he and his wife and three children lived with his mother for seven years. “It was all I could afford,” he says. “My MP’s pay was £1,750, and my secretary was paid £750. That left £1,000 for two adults and three children.” His mother was kindness itself, facilitating a long and fruitful career. For all that, it wasn’t easy. “She didn’t like the way my children behaved, especially when my son, now 55, lit a fire in the basement. He was a bit of an arsonist, but then he was born on November 5th, and one of his names is Guy.” It was only to be expected.

Twitter: @hugh_muir

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