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Matthew Norman's Media Diary

A bit down, Mr Brown? Time to call on that charming man Morrissey

AFTER AN inexcusable leave of absence from her oeuvre, the time comes for more textual analysis of the work of Melanie Phillips (whose new joke book, The Mad Mel Bumper Book of Mirth, is published on 17 December). Taking a rare break from humorous writing, she devotes her Daily Mail column to Tony Blair's revelation that he didn't harp on about his faith for fear of being seen as slightly odd. In a piece headlined "The Real Nutters Are The Fanatics Who Despise Religious Belief", we find MM taking a leaf from Mr Blair's forensic manual by demolishing an argument no one would ever make. "Certain acute situations require judgments which are, in essence, unavoidable leaps of faith," MM gnomically observes. (What are these acute situations?) "In such circumstances would we really prefer it if the PM decided what to do just by crossing his fingers, closing his eyes and sticking a pin into conflicting advice?"

Not really, no... but might there be a third way, somewhere between taking instruction directly from the Creator and throwing the dice, such as analysing all available evidence? Apparently not. "Wouldn't it be a source of some reassurance that he draws instead upon his faith for guidance...?" What, like George Bush? Or Osama bin Laden? Or Mr Blair himself, who will answer for his Iraqi adventure to a higher power? This is a knife-edge judgment, so we'll need to think about recent precedents of geopolitical figures with hotlines to their various deities, and we may come back to it another time. All the same, well done Mad Mel!

NEWS THAT onetime Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett has been appointed Australia's new Environment Minister raises an intriguing question. Could there be a place in Gordon's ailing administration for Morrissey? This charming Manc is poised to sue the NME for libel for allegedly misquoting and misinterpreting his remarks about the loss of British identity caused by mass immigration. A berth at the Home Office might seem incendiary, then, but with James Purnell failing to impress, one can see Lord Morrissey of Rome shaking up Culture, Media and Sport. That must wait, however, pending the outcome of potentially the most engaging High Court encounter since Andrew Neil and Perry Worsthorne battered each other to pieces down the Strand.

MORRISSEY IS scheduled to play some gigs at London's Roundhouse in January, but we must wait to hear whether he intends to add a date at the Oxford Union. In the meantime, recent OU speaker David Irving warns of libel action should anyone suggest that he is an "active" Holocaust denier. A word of thanks to David for taking the trouble to write on his own headed notepaper, featuring a colour picture of the rambling, redbrick country house he is renting near Windsor, replete with chimney pots, manicured lawns, high hedges and a barn. Whether it's a cracking idea to gamble his lifestyle in a picturesque home on inevitably doomed legal actions is questionable. Still, empty threats come cheap.

ON SIMILAR lines, I am distressed by reports from Strasbourg of a poisonous smear against my favourite columnist Jon Gaunt. Last week, Gaunty went to the European Parliament to host a heated debate about the EU on his excellent TalkSport show, but it was off air that all the merriment took place. After removing the headphones, the Finnish MEP Alexander Stubb, seemingly perplexed by his host's interviewing technique, accused Gaunty of being (and this is so silly that it must have been a mistranslation) a racist. In a tough no-nonsense counter-strike, Gaunty invited Mr Stubb to "fuck off", while producer Sean Dilley later denied berating Gaunty for being "unprofessional". As if. This is all very bemusing, and we look forward to a full account in Gaunty's Sun column on Friday. Meanwhile, the odds against him eventually succeeding David Dimbleby on Question Time have been trimmed to 100-30.

IF THERE'S one thing of which we can never have enough, it is the Professor of Journalism (how our universities survived so long without them, I will never know), but it isn't easy swapping the editor's chair for the dreaming spires. Take Prof Peter Wilby, who writes in The Guardian media section of his struggles to understand red-top tabloids these days because of all the stories about people of whom he's never heard. "Now the front page (of the declining Sunday People) shouts about how 'X Factor Rhydian', whoever he or she is..." he writes. As Daily Mirror columnist Paul Routledge has been reminded, there is nothing clever about proudly displaying one's ignorance of popular culture. If you don't know Rhydian's gender, man, for God's sake Google him. Or her.

HOW WITTY of the Met to knock on Harry Redknapp's front door last Wednesday at precisely 6.06am. There's nothing like a radio football pun to take the sting out of a dawn raid. In due accordance with PACE (Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984), the officers were accompanied by a reporter and photographer from The Sun, although in this case they should have taken DJ Spoony. Or better still Alan Green. Two minutes of him moaning about the boredom of the drive, and Harry's missus would have coughed to the St Valentine's Day massacre.

WE MAY well return to him next week, but for now just this from Conrad Black's interview on Friday (sentencing day) with John Humphrys: "And by the way, I'm not bombastic." Bless his heart, they'll love him on the inside.