Who is this `doctor' who claims to be a `minister'?
`Cunningham was well known to the Labour Party, but they had no clear idea of what he did'
Monday 15 February 1999
"We should have had our suspicions early on, I suppose," says one duped producer. "He came on air and refused to commit himself to anything. When faced with expert opinion to the effect that genetic modification could harm the immune system, he said that nothing was proved yet. When charged with being in the pocket of big business, he denied it. When asked to put a moratorium on genetically altered foodstuffs, he said he did not feel the government could take this step. When..."
Yes, yes, we get the idea. So he displayed no immediate knowledge of the subject and refused to take any responsibility for it ?
"Yes. He behaved like any normal politician in power, in fact. That is why our suspicions were not aroused."
So what did arouse your suspicions?
"Well, as much as anything it was his ubiquity. He turned up on almost every programme you care to name over the weekend, passionately saying the same nothings and denying the same nothings. Sometimes he even telephoned the programme after he had left the studio to make a further point! Well, politicians do enjoy going on the air as much as anyone, but even they have a home life, especially at the weekends, and this "Dr" Jack Cunningham seemed to spend all his time on the air. So we started to smell a rat."
And then they started to investigate "Dr" Jack Cunningham, and the whole truth began to unravel. For a start, his name wasn't Jack, it was John. For another start, he didn't seem to be what you might call a real doctor.
"Oh, you get this from time to time in top politics," says the producer, who would prefer to remain anonymous and employed. "Every party seems to throw up at least one politician who calls himself a doctor, for no very good reason. They're not medical doctors. They may have some DPhil tucked away in the kitchen cupboard, which would give them a sort of nominal right to be called "doctor" - chemistry in Cunningham's case, I believe - but what normal person would insist on it, unless they were very insecure or perhaps desperate to be taken seriously? We always had trouble with the Tories and their Brian Mawhinney insisting on being called Dr Mawhinney, and then there's Ian Paisley, but let's not go down that particular garden path...
"Anyway, when we investigated further it transpired that although Cunningham was well known to the Labour Party, they had no very clear idea of what he did there. He seemed to attend Cabinet meetings, but had no particular ministry post, except Minister for the Cabinet Office, which doesn't mean anything. When we asked contacts what this could possibly signify, some people said it meant he was the Enforcer, some the Terminator, some the Fixer, all of which suggested that nobody actually knew what he did. Or perhaps of course that he doesn't do anything. Except bluster his way on to programmes!"
Has "Dr" Jack Cunningham therefore engineered his way into the Cabinet in the same way as he seems to have insinuated his way into TV and radio programmes? Is he some kind of bogus minister?
"Look," says the duped producer, who really, really, really doesn't want to be named, as it might lead to all sorts of awkward complications at work, "when you've been in this job as long as I have, and you want to stay there a little longer, you don't use expressions like `bogus' and `scam' and `another time-wasting performance by that arch-witterer Doc Jack Cunningham'. What you do is search out the researchers who were responsible for getting him on the programme and give them a hard time.
"Mark you, there is one other ironic thing about `Dr' Jack Cunningham. When we were checking him out, we looked him up in Who's Who and we noticed that he gives as his one of his hobbies, `listening to other people's opinions'. It may be so but it's not a hobby he indulges in on air very much."
Hmm... But doesn't the fact that "Dr" Jack Cunningham appears in the august pages of Who's Who suggest that he's a genuine politician?
"Not necessarily. After all, Jeffrey Archer's in there as well."
Well, there you have it. If you think "Dr" Jack Cunningham is an impostor, ring the YES line. If not, ring the NO line. All calls are at premium rate, so do ask your parents first - or the people masquerading as your parents.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
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