Blair-faced cheek

There was more than met the eye to the Blair family trip to Cornwall last summer, writes Iain Dale

I wonder where Tony Blair and his family will be heading for their summer holidays this year? Last year they were forced to spend a few days in Cornwall as a sign of support for the British tourist industry after the foot and mouth outbreak. My visit this week to the Fowey literary festival rather leads me to think they might not be welcome back.

It was widely reported at the time that Downing Street asked local hotels for a hefty discount - though it wasn't clear that they actually got one. And I suppose that No 10 officials could be forgiven for this cheeky request as there were 13 people in the party.

But something happened that wasn't reported during the family's visit to the Eden Project - the great glass-roofed gardens just outside St Austell. After traipsing round Cornwall's biggest tourist attraction the official party descended on the well-stocked souvenir shop and filled their baskets with goodies to take back to London.

All well and good, but I'm told on good authority that someone in the party - not a member of the Blair family - then asked if they could have the goods for free. The checkout person, to her credit, wasn't having any of it and refused - only to be asked for a 50% discount instead. She stuck to her guns and made them pay in full. I don't suggest for a minute that either Mr or Mrs Blair knew that this request was being made, but it is a bit rich isn't it?

· You can't deny that Mo Mowlam is still adored by many. But if her rather odd behaviour when she came into Politico's the other day to sign books is anything to go by her tour to promote her autobiography will be eventful. She sat down before a pile of about 150 books and then proceeded to answer the Politico's telephone each time it rang. To caller after caller she said: "Iain Dale? Never heard of him". And then put the phone down.

To say I had a little fence-mending to do afterwards is an understatement. I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling of empathy with Tony Blair.

· The sacking of Ann Winterton after her racist gag was not quite as smooth as it seemed.

I hear that several leading Tories wanted her sacked first thing on Sunday morning after news of her attempted joke broke the night before. But there was a problem. The party leader was nowhere to be found. Someone then remembered that he goes to church every week and wouldn't be home until almost lunchtime.

There was also a good deal of headscratching within the party high command over her successor. Several at the top of the party were pushing the case of the MP for Arundel, Howard Flight, whose ability to make money cannot be denied, but whose knowledge of agriculture was thought to be lacking to say the least.

So into the job walked David Lidington, yet another of those ex-Treasury special advisers who now inhabit the Tory benches.

· It's a shame that John Murray, one of the last independent publishers, has been forced to sell out to Hodder Headline, which in turn is owned by WH Smith. But in today's publishing world, the economics of the madhouse exist and it's more and more difficult for small publishers to survive.

Hodder paid a combined advance of around £1.5m for the memoirs of Edward Heath, Michael Heseltine and Mo Mowlam - knowing that it was almost certain that in each case the book would make a loss. They presumably paid these vast amounts just to stop rival publishers getting the book.

As the owner of a small independent publisher of political books I must declare an interest here. Paying this kind of silly money means it is impossible for independent publishers to compete. In turn, their books are squeezed out of the review pages of national newspapers and their books can't get into bookshops because the central buying power of WH Smith and Waterstone's keeps them out.

In this weekend's papers more than 90% of the reviews were of books by the top 10 publishing conglomerates. Why? Not because their books are any better than those by the many small publishers that survive. But their marketing spend and reach is far greater. It's a sad fact, but in 10 years' time I predict that 90% of the books sold in high street shops will come from around 10 companies. Readers will be the losers.