Matthew Norman: Beware Campbell's rebuke

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The Independent Online

It's hard to recall a finer offering than Alastair Campbell's musings on Julian Assange. What offends Ali is the WikiLeaks fugitive's hypocrisy in accepting sanctuary from an Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, with scant reverence for media freedom; "a President who sees a critical column not as part of the rough and tumble of political debate, but the inspiration for a libel suit which led to a journalist and newspaper directors being jailed and fined tens of millions of pounds".

Once again, Ali's ironic self-awareness guides him to make a sound point with laconic brilliance. Worse things than fines and jail sentences can happen, as he hints, when bullying governments misinterpret the rough and tumble as cause to pursue vendettas against their critics. Sometimes, innocents die in the woods. "Somewhere along the way, " Ali observes, "I think Mr Assange's moral compass has gone askew." If that rebuke doesn't propel him out of the embassy, whatever will?

In the light of Clint Eastwood's tragi-comic turn with the empty chair, I offer this suggestion to any profit-minded theatrical impresario. When the current London run of The Sunshine Boys ends, recast Neil Simon's play about two raging, befuddled old geezers with Clint in the Walter Matthau role. The George Burns part, it hardly needs stating, belongs to Rupert Murdoch.

Eastwood's earlier oeuvre should be Ed Miliband's reference point if he wishes to improve a colleague's manners. Ed Balls's penchant for reading and writing phone messages while his leader is speaking demands something more pungent than Miliband's "People can be just as interesting as BlackBerrys". John Major was harder than that. "Do you feel lucky?", preparatory to unloading the contents of a Magnum into Balls's face (the ice lolly, of course; we cannot condone the use of a .44 calibre handgun), would make everyone's day, week, month and year.

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