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The corridors of power...

I laughed out loud when I heard that Richard Caborn, our sports minister, had been ordered home from Sydney for the vote on foundation hospitals.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke. I first met Caborn during a press trip to Tunisia three years ago, when he was UK trade minister. My write-up referred to the ‘bearded Richard Caborn’.

He subsequently summoned me to the DTI and accused me of being prejudiced against people with beards.

Perish the thought, nasty, smelly things. I got into enough trouble with comments in this column a year ago about why one should never do business with anyone who wears gold jewellery, has a beard or keeps a fish tank in their lobby.

Roger Levitt kept a humidor in his lobby, but I didn’t see any fish.

As Caborn flew home, the knives were out for Conrad Black, the newspaper baron. The press in Canada, where he renounced citizenship to take up a British peerage, was among his fiercest critics.

One commentator compared Black with Captain Ahab in Moby Dick ‘growing so obsessed with his quest for the Great White Whale that he could not see the ruin he brought on all around him’.

Steady on. But I have had my doubts about Black ever since seeing photos of him turning up for a charity bash at Kensington Palace dressed like a French cardinal.

Robert Maxwell was once snapped wearing an oversized turban and it didn’t do much for his career.

And what about Philip Green dressing up in a toga for his 50th birthday bash in Cyprus? Or Sir Richard Branson dressing up in just about every costume imaginable?

Well, one of them has a beard. Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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