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Matthew Norman: Chumps' U-turn embarrasses Labour


Oh the excruciation of a sense of entitlement betrayed. So many and varied are the delights to be savoured from Labour's reaction to The Sun's delicately timed transfer of support that picking a winner feels futile.

Union boss Tony Woodley's tearing up of an edition on the conference platform cutely mingled pathos and pantomime, for example, while the studied indifference of Alastair Campbell was a predictable treat. A champion must be declared, however, so take a bow Lance Price, whose odyssey from BBC reporter to No 10 propagandist to political commentator neatly reflects New Labour's triumph in eliminating the traditional distinction between an independent media and the government. "It would be in the interests of everybody apart from The Sun itself," wrote Lance on Wednesday, shrugging off newspaper endorsements as meaningless, "if we all took one look at their front page and said a weary 'So what?'" How true that is. What kind of centre-left administration fixates on the mythical importance of a right-wing red-top? Now then, here's Lance reacting to the Daily Mirror's revelation, in October 2001, that a Downing Street press officer by the name of Lance Price had leaked the previous summer's election date to The Sun. Admitting that the Mirror felt "mightily aggrieved", Lance said then that "having The Sun on board was a sufficiently important price to take that risk." A chump of a rare order indeed. Or whatever noun Lord Mandelson unleashed in top level talks with Sun execs in Brighton the other night.

Murdoch marches on

The happy news for fans of British governance is that the Murdoch-government axis that has ruled us so wisely for 30 almost unbroken years will continue. With James Murdoch and George Osborne new best friends, in fact, and with Andy Coulson so effectively deployed as an alternate bridgehead, it will be stronger than ever. The Eurotrash salon of Matthew Freud and Elisabeth Murdoch will remain the epicentre of influence, and we look forward to David Cameron arriving at their Christmas bash on the arm of fearsomely cerebral new Sun editor Dominic Mohan, as Mr Tony Blair once did with Rebekah Wade.

Her own promotion to News International chief executive looks less an internal appointment than a key step in forming the transition team. While governments rise and fall, the Murdoch empire glides dynastically on. In this respect, it is the mirror-image of the monarchy Rupert so despises, only with power. In an uncertain, neophiliac world, its permanence is a reassurance to us all.

All bow to Andrew Marr

As for the week's other major media story of the week, we salute Andrew Marr, right, for asking the Prime Minister that question. If Andrew possessed a slightly larger pair, he'd have specified anti-depressants, but that's a tiny quibble. The notion that the PM's mental health isn't a legitimate area of public interest, as propounded by too many pundits, is totally deranged in itself, while the antipathy towards letting the electorate in on what that odious little clique at Westminster have been discussing relentlessly for years echoes the patrician contempt that precluded any public mention of the abdication crisis as it came to the boil in 1936. It's worth noting that Gordon could easily have rebutted the rumour when Mr Marr raised it, but restricted his denial to that half of the question regarding his eyesight. Any decent poker player noting his body language would have taken 0.17 seconds to conclude he was bluffing and push all the chips into the pot.

Smear squad's backlash

Among those taking the opposite line is the Mirror's Kevin Maguire, who attended that fabled meeting of Damian McBride's smear squad – one that wanted to spread poison, you must recall, about the mental health of a shadow minister's wife – in a purely private capacity. Kevin suffered a fit of the vapours, approvingly tweeting that a "group of Labour MPs plan to boycott Andrew Marr's programme until he apologises over Brown pill-popping nonsense". There is no word as to which high-minded souls belong to this group, but a feeling in my water insists that Andrew and his Sabbath audience will find the strength to endure their absence.

Bradshaw plays dumb

Lovers of hide-behind-the-cushion telly are begged to check out Ben Bradshaw's Question Time appearance on YouTube. Asked whether it was right to deport Roman Polanski, Ben looked bamboozled (who'd have guessed that one might come up?) before confessing he hadn't focused on the story. This was no lie. He wasn't even sure about the 13-year-old victim's gender. It takes a fair bit to entice an ironic put-down from the affable David Dimbleby, but Ben's claim that the story fell outside his brief managed it. "Culture, media and sport," was Mr Dimbleby's laconic reply to that. As for David Starkey's unwontedly vicious demolition of this über-nebbish, well, you'd need a stronger constitution and a bigger cushion than mine to have coped comfortably with that. British TV has thrown up no political humiliation on this scale since higher education supremo David Lammy went on Celebrity Mastermind and proudly informed John Humphrys that the surname of Marie, the French scientist who discovered radium, was Antoinette.

Boris's calamitous cameo

Mind you, Boris's EastEnders cameo came mighty close. Whoever advised him to suffer a puncture while cycling through Walford and wander into the Queen Vic at the precise moment Peggy was bemoaning her lack of access to the London Mayor wants a slap. Would anyone have a current mobile number for Darius Guppy?