Matthew Norman's Media Diary

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The Independent Online

With the general election a month away, I am distressed to see The Sun's editor Rebekah Wade trapped in a labyrinth of conflicting emotions. With each day, her paper seems less besotted with the Prime Minister. Take Friday's leader on Mr Blair's absurd fiction about £35bn in Tory spending cuts: "Politicians must not insult people's intelligence," it rebuked, "nor try to scare them in the battle to win votes." With two tiny amendments - changing the first word to "editors" and the last two to "sell papers" - one could apply the point to The Sun's campaign against gypsies.

However, this is no time for pedantry when so brutal an attack on the PM's integrity highlights the crisis of conscience enshrouding Ms Wade. On the one hand, she obviously feels her readers' interests would be best served by a Tory government, and sniffs the burgeoning anti-Blair sentiment on the breeze. On the other, she and her husband Ross Kemp enjoy their Chequers weekends à quatre with the Blairs, who affect to regard them as "personal friends", and rumours persist that Ross may be parachuted into a safe Labour seat (although frankly it's hard to see the theatre-loving Prime Minister depriving the stage of so promising a Shakespearian).

How long can it be now before Mr Blair mutters "Et tu, Rebekah"? If she wishes to plunge the stiletto in now, but feels constrained by the PM's relationship with Rupert Murdoch, I have a compromise solution. In olden times, Conrad Black would write pompous letters to The Spectator distancing himself from a particular line. So why shouldn't Mr Murdoch take out a full-page ad in The Sun to express his personal disagreement with a pro-Tory stance?

He is, as he often reminds us, the least hands-on of owners, and if every one of his editors around the globe happens to agree with him in every detail about the euro, it must be one of those tremendous coincidences that gives life its savour.

* Speaking of News International, congratulations to The Sun and the News of the World for cleaning up at last week's Press Gazette awards ("the Oscars of our industry"). Despite my own absence from the podium, you will find no sour grapes here - and I'm happy to make it crystal clear that the clutch of prizes given to those titles had nothing whatsoever to do with their repeated threats to boycott the event if they didn't start winning. A special hats-off to The Sun's political editor Trevor Kavanagh, who richly deserved the "Outstanding Achievement In Taking Shorthand Dictation Over The Phone From Alastair" award for his superb Hutton Enquiry scoop of last year.

* On the same evening, the Royal Television Society had its prize bash, albeit that this year's event was really a mass audition for those who wish to succeed Lorraine Heggessey as controller of BBC 1. Lorraine herself was seen in close conclave with Channel 4's Kevin Lygo, my own preference for the job not just because he is the most talented runner in the field, but because he is an extraordinarily distant relation by various marriages. Kevin insists he is staying put, but then Steve Bruce was always insisting he wasn't off to his next club, so we shall see. Of the internal candidates, Jane Lush unveiled an impressive new power-hairdo, while Sophie Turner-Laing impressed onlookers with her spirited attempts to charm BBC colleagues. Playing the part of Best Mate, meanwhile, was former BBC 2 controller Jane Root, the ante-post favourite, who missed the event due to being on maternity leave.

* In the midst of its troubles, it's good to see the Downing Street media machine enjoy the odd success. On most days, news that Mr Blair's beloved "flagship" city academy schools are failing disastrously might well have been splashed on front pages, but last Thursday's coverage was very muted. Whether releasing the test results for 14-year-olds on Budget day qualifies under the Jo Moore principle of bad news burial, who can say? But perhaps on a less frantic news day, editors might care to revisit the story in greater depth.

* Shocking news in The Mirror of a soon-to-be pensioner. Paul Routledge cites the heart-rending case of his own missus, who when she turns 60 in the summer, will be entitled to a pension of £1.18 per week. And this despite having worked "for 24 years at various jobs, from part-time school dinner lady to employment in the computer industry". Before anyone reaches for the cheque book, I should point out that one job not mentioned in Paul's piece is that of landlady, the couple having a splendid portfolio of properties in the north, all in Mrs Routledge's name. As for Paul, a few years back he responded to a taunt by brandishing a Skipton Building Society bank book revealing a balance of well over £100,000. "Mrs R is not a happy woman," writes her helpmeet. "In fact you could say the old girl is spitting lumps of coal. Or would, if they didn't cost so much." Paul, why not leave the Skipton book on her pillow tonight? That should cheer her up.

* My thanks, finally, to a reader for proposing a more depressing 11-word English sentence than: "And now on Radio 4, time for Midweek with Libby Purves."

A Mr A Green, writing from White City, London W12, suggests this. "Coming up on 5 Live after the 7pm news ... Jonathan Pearce."

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