Matthew Norman: A wounded educationalist such as Alastair would excel as an Etonian housemaster


On behalf of an old friend in urgent need of a proper job, I begin with a public appeal. Are you, or do you know, the head of one our leading public schools with a vacancy for the teacher of politics, media studies, modern languages, softly pornographic English literature, intelligence dossier précising or any of the other academic disciplines in which Alastair Campbell is known to excel?

After last week, the urge to find this latter-day Flashman something to consume his time and energy can no longer be contained. The ructions occasioned by his guest editing of the New Statesman, in which Mr Tony Blair finally consented to do God, and from which Suzanne Moore so sensationally resigned in protest, are a minor embarrassment. Besides, there's a certain nostalgic charm in the vision of the soft left having a public scrap that serves nicely as ironic pastiche of more relevant battles of old.

More upsetting were Ali's attempts, in print and on a BBC that covers itself in something (possibly glory, possibly not) with its unending drive to keep him off the streets, to strike a tone of Olympian disdain about the forthcoming film In The Loop, in which Peter Capaldi reprises the repulsive Malcolm Tucker, closely modelled on someone or other, from BBC TV's The Thick Of It.

"Of the many criticisms I have faced down the years," he wrote in The Guardian, "lacking a sense of humour has not been among them". Indeed not. As Dame Edna told Jeffrey Archer, if he couldn't laugh at himself he'd be missing the joke of the century.

This once, however, the gift for self-mockery evaded him. It wasn't that he set out to be unimpressed with the movie, much less that he was umbraged. It's just that he was bored to bits by the infantile world view that the likes of himself are essentially venal goons. If anything offended him, it was the lack of nuance, the absence of shade, the Manichean crudity of it all. This article, with its vibrant sub-text of woundedness, is his most deafening cry for help yet. Surely there's a berth at Eton, Harrow or Rugby for a frustrated educationalist with so much more to give?

No chapel of rest for Huw

Added to the already capacious list of reasons to be anything but cheerful about the emperilment of our local papers is this. Without The Llanelli Star, how would we be kept abreast of Huw Edwards's campaign to protect the chapels of Wales? How Huw finds the time, what with writing, editing and producing the BBC Ten O'Clock News as well as reading it, is beyond me. Somehow he does, and his magnum opus, Chapels of Llanelli, is about to be published. Thanks to the Star for this, and for the report on his appearance, with mother and chief researcher Aerona, at the Tabernacle Chapel, a house of God so ancient that "one of its windows dates back to the First World War", where he hosted the St David's Day cymanfa ganu (a festival of sacred hymns). We are embroiled in a tough, and frankly at times vicious, battle for the serialisation rights, and hope to have good news next week. If not, we'll just fillet it all the same.

Fiona, stoic through pain

Sincerest condolences to Fiona Phillips on the loss of Natasha Richardson. Fiona is being stoic yet still the pain shines through. In fairness, the headline on her Daily Mirror eulogy goes a little further than the copy. Even so, "I Feel Like I Have Lost A Close Friend" caught the grief she feels, understandably, at the death of an actress she interviewed once, for 20 minutes, in New York.

Jobs for the girls

Meanwhile, with Nicolas Sarkozy rumoured to be considering bringing TV presenter Christine Kelly into his administration, is this the time for Gordon Brown to renew his offer of a government job to Fiona? And if not her, why not Fern Britton now that she has been un-conjoined from Philip Schofield? Ever since former Alaskan TV sports presenter Sarah Palin came so close to being a cardiac infarction from leading the free world, the trend has been plain. At the very least, Gordon should offer the electric tangerine face portfolio, vacant since Peter Hain's demise, to a hurriedly ennobled Judith Chalmers. This government needs brightening up, and time is short.

Papers not going to dogs

Touching support for this beleaguered trade from the man who edged out Mrs Palin. "These are dark days for the newspaper business, but I hate it when people say that newspapers are obsolete. That's totally untrue, as I know from first-hand experience," Joe Biden reassured a press conference last week. "I recently got a puppy, and you can't housebreak a puppy on the internet". Mr Vice-President, you're much too kind.

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