Matthew Norman's Media Diary

A thundering loss of the plot
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The Independent Online

It is with some fatigue that we return to the Government's scandalous failure to reward the dapper Times editor, Robert Thomson, with a knighthood. There are too many examples of Robert's heroic work for New Labour to chronicle here, but the relegation to an inside page of the veteran peace campaigner Walter Wolfgang's conference maltreatment gives a flavour. And so to last Wednesday.

While others revealed their lack of news sense by focusing on Tony Blair's imminent Commons disaster, Robert looked elsewhere for his splash. "Davis races ahead in Tory poll", was the headline above a report by Peter Riddell, that hip young gunslinger widely considered the industry's most electrifying stylist since the late Woodrow Wyatt.

Alas, alas and thrice alas, it now emerges that the headline figure - a massively perplexing 50-37 lead for David Davis - was based on the opinions of only 122 respondents, a sample infinitely too small to be relied on by anyone sensible. A full account of the system used and how it came to such a bizarre result can be found on www.politicalbetting.com, which quotes the boss of Times pollsters Populus, Andrew Cooper, saying: "I would not have put the headline they did above the findings."

I bet he bleeding wouldn't. There is no suggestion that the Times set out to provide a huge boost for the candidate for whose victory New Labour is on its knees praying. No, no, this is the sort of error over-excitable youngsters like Peter tend to make, and he'll learn in time. As for Robert, if he thinks some post-editing executive post in the Murdoch empire is adequate compensation for the monumental buffoon all this nonsense makes him look, that's his business.

AS FOR the latest addition to that happy band of editors, a warm welcome to Lionel Barber, new guv'nor at the FT. Every year, Lionel always attends the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the likes of Henry Kissinger and Bill Gates lecture one another on macroeconomic trends. A few years back, Lionel was so inspired by one talk that he lost motor control in the gents, and dropped his mobile in the bowl. He emerged to ask a security guard to fish it out. Knowing how to delegate is half the battle of good editing, and we have few fears for him.

A WORD of praise for our nation's Sunday tabloids, which showed such ferocity in deconstructing the domestic between Rebekah and Ross Wade (Ross Kemp as was). Barely a word, even in those non-Murdoch red tops that merrily splash with stories about far less newsworthy soap stars having a "cancer scare" over what turns out to be a benign mole.

Still, Rebekah has recovered her poise splendidly, and if her championing of Mr Blair's 90-day detention period carried a desperate tone, at least she has the guts to back a certain loser now and then.

If it hastens the Wades' return to the Chequers weekend guest list, all the better.

THE WADE dust-up caused us to postpone the serialisation of Simon Heffer's new book last week, and in the interim a good-humoured e-mail arrives from the author. I quote it almost in full. "You have written so often that my late-lamented father was a policeman that I have started to worry that he had kept something from me ... for decades. But detailed investigations reveal that, in fact, he wasn't - which was, happily, what I had spent the last 45 years believing.

"I would love to have something in common with that fine actor Mr Ross Kemp [sic], but, sadly, it's not that." Thanks to him for clearing this up, and sadly that'll have to be the end of it.

AND SO to this week's instalment of Son of PC Gone Mad (Bunter Books, £18.99), Simon's Alan Bennett-style memoir of growing up in Southend as the son of a beat bobby (sometimes, as CP Scott used to say, psychological truth makes literal truth look an ass).

Today, we find the Heffers off to purchase the family's first car. "July 4, 1976: What with the date and all, I urged Dad to be a bit Atlanticist when we reached the showroom, and buy a Chrysler. Mam wasn't having it. 'I see our Simon's getting above himself with his Yankee ways again,' she said (it's what she says whenever I try to raise the tone). 'It'll be cheeseburgers and Moon landings before you know it.'

"Well, Dad sat down with the salesman and, bold as brass, started haggling over an Austin Princess. Eventually, he bought it on the never-never, and off we drove. 'One day soon, lad, you'll be making better use of that back seat, I dare say," said Dad, winking at Mam as we passed the war memorial at 9mph, his helmet already making a dent in the roof, and they both started cackling.

"Very uncouth, they're becoming. Very uncouth indeed."

FINALLY, FEARS mount for Boris Johnson, whose imminent departure from the Spectator editorship seems inevitable. Despite the mag making David Cameron Parliamentarian of the Year, the word is Boris's old Eton chum refuses to take his calls. If Mr Cameron fails to give Boris the big job that would let him leave the Speccie with dignity - and it must be a shadow cabinet portfolio, not some worthless front-bench role - he's going to be in a pickle. Perhaps a poll in Friday's edition, showing Mr Cameron with a 100-0 lead over Mr Davis (on a sample of one) might turn things around?

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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