Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Contemplating the year ahead for the media, thoughts naturally turn to the vexing problem of Alastair Campbell. Like so many deserving cases, Alastair missed out in the New Year Honours, dashing hopes of a peerage and a Cabinet portfolio as Secretary of State for Shredding Official Documents (Sod). So, what's to become of him in 2005?

He'll spend a few weeks back at No 10 undermining Alan Milburn's election campaign, of course, and a few more handing out the half-time oranges when the British Lions go to New Zealand - an engagement about which he writes movingly in The Times. "I am also drawn to anything that might make the country feel better about itself," was his explanation for taking the job... and regarding his crucial role in taking us to that morale-boosting war in Iraq, who can doubt his altruism? Yet, can we regard menacingly sipping cups of cha at Clive Woodward's side as a seemly deployment of "the skills I have developed in communications and strategy"? I don't think so. I've long been tormented by a profiler's vignette of Ali in his kitchen, staring dolefully yet expectantly at his defunct No 10 hot line, and have a plan to rescue him from this Napoleonic exile. Soon after the election, Gerald Kaufman (if he retains Manchester Gorton; alas, it seems, no gimme) must resign to spend more time with his show-tunes CDs, gifting a by-election to Alastair, who recently hinted at becoming an MP. He can then slide into Sir Gerald's seat, as chairman of the Commons media select committee, and prosecute his excellent campaign against cynicism and dishonesty in newspapers and the BBC.

Only a fantasy, I know, but if we can't enjoy a little utopian daydreaming at this time of the year, when can we?

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Meanwhile, Alastair's lady, Fiona Millar, is up to her old tricks again, instructing us where and where not we may educate our children on a Radio Five Live phone-in. Although this one was presented by that Forrest Gump of the airwaves Richard Bacon, the show belongs to Victoria Derbyshire, and she is praised by Michael Leapman in the New Statesman. His thesis is that Radio Five threatens to supplant its more sonorous stablemate as the natural home of the intelligentsia. Her phone-in, he insists, "boasts a range of subjects ... that could easily attract disaffected Radio 4 listeners," and how very true this is. You may recall the time Victoria asked whether it can ever be right to be sacked for something done outside the workplace (we cited the minister who beats his wife away from the Cabinet table as a peculiarly tricky conundrum). Last week, pressing home Michael's point that phone-ins are "no longer dominated by adenoidally challenged obsessives", an hour of that very show was given up to a debate about the poor state of football clubs in Yorkshire. Cracking stuff.

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In the Daily Mail, Marcelle D'Argy Smith attacks Anne Robinson for asking a Weakest Link contestant who runs a care home for the elderly if she nicks the old folk's jewellery. "I didn't laugh once last Monday," blusters Marcelle. "That's not because I'm utterly humourless." Of course not. This ability to synthesise demonic outrage at a droll wind-up brings to mind Dorothy Parker holding court at the Algonquin, and so hilarious is Marcelle's piece that I suspect sloppy subbing removed the traditional Mail humour warning that goes: "Our brilliant writer, tongue firmly in cheek..." I especially enjoyed the personal touch. "My mother is in her late 80s, and is tended four times a day by carers." Well said. Still, best be on the safe side, Marcelle, and swap the diamond ring for a zircon.

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From one leading self-parodist to another, and Janet Daley, resident Cassandra at The Daily Telegraph. Janet is moved by the catastrophe in south Asia to make a foray into theology, and splendid it is too. Railing against the growing godlessness in Britain, she derides the notion that horrendous natural disasters might make faith in an omniscient, omnipotent deity - one knowingly responsible for every thing that affects the planet - more difficult. Her argument is that if bad things are proof to the atheist of God's absence, good ones must prove Him to exist. It's a shade sophisticated, to be honest, and will take a little while to analyse fully. But probably nothing for Rowan Williams to lose sleep over yet.

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And so to a couple of others who, along with Alastair Campbell, should have made the New Year Honours. First, Paul Johnson who recently filled a Spectator column with a list of things he hates - everything from Scottish BBC announcers to diary columnists and newspaper photographers who "connive with picture editors to show close-ups of me looking ... senile". The very thought of it. Approaching his ninth decade, Paul is as much on spanking form as ever he was, and should be ennobled forthwith.

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Finally, to another inexplicable absentee, the newspaper proprietor David Sullivan. Apart from running his Sport titles, David moonlights as owner of Birmingham City, and in this capacity he describes a rival club's attempts to poach that lovable midfielder Robbie Savage as "highly illegal and improper". In what Janet Daley rightly condemns as an irreligious age, it is essential that media barons stringently condemn the illegal and improper. Especially those, like David, who once did a spot of porridge for pimping.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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