Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Charles, you really are a lesson to me
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The Independent Online

Is there a more influential critic of the media in Britain today than Charles Clarke? Perhaps you'll know the ex-Home Secretary best at the minute for Friday's savage attack on the "absolutely stupid" Gordon Brown, whose fitness for Prime Ministerial purpose he cruelly questioned. Yet there's so much more to Charlie than an embittered has-been intent on ensuring a Labour civil war. Back in April, for example, not long before he was sacked, Charlie lectured the London School of Economics on the evils of liberal left commentators who deliberately mislead readers. At times, he said of attacks on him for undermining civil liberties, "the truth just flies out of the window, as does... any requirement to examine the facts and check them with rigour". Of course, he's right. It is the responsibility of us all to tell the truth as we see it. At about the time of that lecture, I was involved in a spat with Charlie myself. After a trenchant comment piece, which mentioned that he and Gordon detest each other, he took advantage of a lull in Home Office activity (apart from the vanished prisoners scandal, terrorist plots and so on, there wasn't a lot in his in-tray) to compose a 450-word letter rebutting just about every word. "It is perhaps worth adding," he wrote to the paper, "that my relationship with the Chancellor is extremely cordial. It is a comment on the current state of relations between politicians and the media that you published such an odious and deceptive opinion piece by a journalist about a politician without pausing to check the basic 'facts'." May I take this chance to apologise belatedly for the deception, and to look forward with glee to Charlie's next keynote address on the sovereign duty to ensure honesty and accuracy in every word written for a newspaper.

I'M BAMBOOZLED by The Sun's ever shifting relationship with Gordon Brown. Last Thursday, the paper went for his throat, referring on its front page to "Brown's plot to destroy Blair". On Friday, meanwhile, it gave him most of page two to write a discernibly Prime Ministerial piece about how tough he'll be on terror. If it wasn't for the fabled independence he allows his editors, you might almost imagine Mr Murdoch ringing on Thursday night from his 747 gently to remind Rebekah Wade that News International will have to work with Gordon soon enough, and that the burning of bridges would be a mistake.

ONE OF the most intriguing things about the early days of a Brown premiership would be observing whether he takes possession not only of No 10, but also of the holiday home three inches to the south of Mr Murdoch's irradiated prostate that Mr Blair has occupied for so long. Somehow, one sadly suspects, he's already mentally measuring up for the curtains, but we'll see soon enough.

ELSEWHERE IN The Sun, the sub-Littlejohnian columnist Jon Gaunt ("Gaunty") continues to impress. "I had the biggest response ever to my article last week, 'Accept our way of life or go home', and most people congratulated me for having the courage to say what they... had been thinking for years." That's tremendous. There's little braver in journalism than a writer confronting the prejudices of his or her readers head on, and nothing less cynically calculated to make a Sun postbag bulge than barely disguised racism. Well done, Gaunty!

WHILE ON the subject, I'm bemused by the ceaseless trails for Sky One's annoyingly addictive show Big Ron Manager, in which he used his coaching experience to help Peterborough United miss out on last season's League Two play-offs. These describe Atkinson as "football's most controversial character", but he's no such thing. He's the most hated and, apart from by Sky One and other cable channels too obscure to mention, the most unemployable.

AND SO, finally, to the second volume of Son of PC Gone Mad!, Simon Heffer's rite of passage memoir about his early life in Southend as the son of a beat bobby. Today's extract sees Simon, now at Oxford, going on his first shoot on the Margate estate of his friend "Colonel" Andrew Roberts, the KFC franchise heir. "October 2, 1980: I begged Dad to park the Panda car behind some trees and wait for me there, but he'd not listen. Bold as brass, he drove right up to the front door - he even put the siren on - so Andrew had to invite them along. 'You'll not like it, Mam,' I told her. 'You know the sight of blood plays merry hell with your innards.' 'You daft hap'worth,' she said, 'I've spent too many nights knitting that tweed waistcoat to wait like a suet pudding in the car while you go off with your posh friends. We're coming with, and there's an end of it.' A fine sight we made, the four of us, trooping into the back garden. 'Eh lad, didn't you say it were grouse you'd be shooting? Funny looking grouse, I must say!' We loaded our pellet guns, Andrew opened one of the coops, and six Rhode Island Red trundled out. 'Come on, Dad, to your business,' said Mam, and he pulled out his truncheon and whacked one of them on the head. 'What are you doing, Dad?' I cried. 'I said I'd be your beater, our Simon,' he said, 'and by 'eck your beater I shall be. Take that, you fingerlickin' little bugger! And that!' I didn't stop. I just ran for the nearest bus. Will I ever be invited to a shooting party again?"

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