Matthew Norman: A polygraph test for pompous politicians


A spat between Ed Balls and The Spectator's political editor Fraser Nelson suggests a refinement to an old idea about how the media should deal with political whoppers.

Mr Balls took such umbrage at Fraser calling him a liar over Labour's spending plans that he carved precious time from fixing the education system to ring him for a chat. "You should not call me a liar," he thundered. "Take that post down now." Understandably bamboozled by this quaint notion that hacks are honour bound to obey peremptory commands from government, Fraser then became bogged down in a "Yes you are a liar/ No I'm not/ Are so" debate with the flavour of an All Souls symposium. There is a simple way to avoid such nastiness. Where I previously proposed that any political interviewee, on whichever medium, must first agree to be strapped to a polygraph, technological advances render both their consent and the electrodes redundant.

The software company X13-VSA offers a voice stress analysis product which is apparently close to foolproof in detecting lies. Every political hack should download the software, available at $299. Those eager to test its efficacy might use as a makeshift pit canary a tape of Gordon Brown denying that he ever contemplated sacking his Chancellor.

'Mad' Mel's pot boils over

Meanwhile, our leading amateur epidemiologist gets her knick knacks in a rare twist over being teased by Peter Preston for predicting that Ann Widdecombe would become Speaker. On her captivating blog, "Mad" Mel Phillips counterstrikes with the most passionate denunciation of a false charge since J'Accuse. She did not predict this, she explodes, merely expressing the hope. One hesitates to suggest this about a great journalist whose doggedness effectively destroyed Jonathan Aitken, but might Peter have begun Mad Mel's Daily Mail piece before running out of puff half-way? He wouldn't be the first. Mel wonders whether he is "just a sloppy writer with no concern either for accuracy or sense." Fine words from the queen of transference who terrified Mail readers about the fictitious link between MMR and autism.

Swine flu scare stories

With new cases predicted to rise to 100,000 per day, concern mounts for our swine flu pandemic naysayers. Several top opinion formers dismissed it as a scare story when those pictures of face mask-clad Mexicans surfaced, and not just the usual cabal of geniuses who hail any summer rainfall as certain proof that climate change is bunkum. Sir Simon Jenkins, for example, regarded the WHO's global pandemic warning as a cynical attempt to justify its budget. He did go on to point out this strain was not dangerous in its current form, and thankfully that's still the case. But if it does mutate into something more menacing, beneath the masks will be egg on many faces.

Thursday night delights

Thursday late nights on BBC1 are an unmitigated joy. Andrew Neil's links on This Week are now so dementedly mannered that they bring to mind the I'm-mental-me-totally-bonkers, Dave Lee Travers manqué great uncle who misapprehended your raw panic for enchanted wonderment at Christmas parties as a child. As for the show that precedes the Adonis's gurnfest, Question Time has reclaimed its role as televisual Ovaltine after the high excitement over MPs' expenses. The recent appearance of a tabby cat on the set hinted at an obvious antidote to the narcosis. Four words suffice. Release the studio panther.

Good golly, Miss Mollie

Speaking of pussies, a sombre note as we mark the passing of Mollie Sugden, left. There has been talk of transforming Michael Jackson's ranch into a giant memorial, but such is the affection for Are You Being Served? in the US that traumatised fans are planning an Elvis-style shrine for Mrs Slocombe and the gang. Grace BrothersLands is scheduled to open in Alabama in the autumn.

Kick him while he's dead

Still with Jacko, finally, it fell to Jon Gaunt to strike the perfect note in The Paedo Gazette (formerly The Sun), by fixating on the child interference angle. "It is never too late ... to send a clear warning to others that they will never get away with their heinous crimes," wrote Gaunty of a deceased man never convicted of anything. "Even in death." Precisely how he means to pursue Mr Jackson is not made clear, but the item is on its way to the Afterlife Department at Bletchley Park, and should be decoded within a fortnight.