Matthew Norman: Gordo the fingernail vs Cam the puppet

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The Independent Online

Here we go again. Every four or five years, without fail, the prospect of a live, televised election scrap between the party leaders is tantalisingly raised, and this time it might even happen. Peter Mandelson has green-lit it already, of course, and where the Senior Prime Minister has led, Gordon may just follow in desperation for a last-minute game-changer. Some find the idea unappealing but, as anyone who watched the Obama vs McCain trilogy may agree, these debates are far the most reliable guides to judgement and temperament.

We'll come to the betting on the moderator below, but first a suggestion for our major networks; the BBC, Sky and Channel 4 (ITV having resigned as a serious broadcaster long ago). Don't wait for the usual game of chicken to run its course, with Andy Coulson warning David Cameron that he has everything to lose, and Gordon dwelling on his YouTube gurnfest. Bounce the buggers into it. Issue a joint statement that a debate will be broadcast, on all channels a fortnight before the election, and that they and Nick Clegg are invited. If they turn up, splendid. If not, they'll be replaced by a bespoke substitute for the Hatterslovian tub of lard…an outsized Lord Charles puppet for Cam, perhaps, and a gigantic gnarled fingernail for Gordo. All the power here lies with the media, if it only had the wit to see it, and some gentle bullying is required. So we suggest an urgent pan-network summit, followed by an instruction that work begin on constructing the set. Build it, and they will come.

Don't bet on it

As Evan Davis wistfully mentioned on Friday's Today programme, neither he nor his colleagues are among those mooted for the role of moderator so far. Ridiculous, really. In any hour-and-a-half debate, James Naughtie's questions would take up no more than 83 minutes, as the bookies clearly understand. The first show sees Ant 'n' Dec installed as 11-4 favourite, with Jim next best on 11-2. Paxo and Kate Garraway are on sevens, with that other ex-GMTV Chequers favourite Fiona Phillips next on 9-1. You can still get tens from Paddy Power that the Dimbleby brothers will bring that Mike and Bernie Winters aura to the debate. The morbid fear of John Humphrys, self-evidently the correct choice, pushes him out to 12s, with Adam Boulton, Vernon Kay, our own Steve Richards and the late Robin Day all on 16s. Unusual betting patterns in the Methodist stronghold of Llanelli push Huw Edwards in to 20s. It's 33-1 bar those. The value bet is the man recently commended as "the most acute political interviewer since Huffty left Channel 4's The Word". Jon Gaunt of SunTalk – station motto: "Listeners? Meh!" – can be backed at an enticing 15,000-1.

Victoria's cheap shot

Despite the humiliation of being moved back an hour to make way for Nicky Campbell, Victoria Derbyshire's BBC Radio 5 Live morning show prospers. Tuesday's feature, in which a prostate cancer sufferer's wife appealed to her warring children to reconcile, was majestic. It absolutely respects the BBC ethos to invade Trisha's territory like this. Best of all, as Victoria read out the "get stuffed, Mum" email from the daughter, was the thought of them high-fiving each other in the control room upon producing another immortal moment in broadcasting history. Bless their hearts.

Party animal gets fried

I was distressed by Johann Hari's brutal demolition of Andrew Roberts in Friday's edition of this paper. Johann made sound points about this "leading historian", not least his enjoyment of hospitality from those on the very far right. What he failed to mention is Andrew's status as the Raffles of beach holiday history. He's a gentleman amateur of a type sorely missed in British public life today, his entrée into society predicated upon the wealth that goes with being heir to a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise fortune. In classic recessionary fashion, KFC has been thriving lately, and he needs the book income less than ever. So it does enormous credit to Andrew – such an important reminder that social mobility hasn't vanished entirely – that he bothers churning them out at all. Whatever Johann may think, he will always be finger lickin' good to me.

A fatal misunderstanding

More confusion at the Daily Mail, which responded to that law lords ruling by taking a dim view of assisted suicide. The paper was careful not to overplay its hand, restraining coverage to the splash, pages 6 and 7, and another spread in its Life section. The entire leader column was also devoted to the matter, concluding that enabling the desperately ill to die with dignity is – what else?– a liberal establishment conspiracy. It's odd. No media outlet rails more about the intrusions of the "nanny state". Can anyone cite a more grotesque instance of that than the state preventing the loved ones of the terminally ill from choosing the method and timing of their death?

Rosie left fallow

Commiserations to Rosie Boycott, finally, on the failure of her organic farm. The process of recouping the £200,000 allegedly lost is underway and, by my calculation, the debt will be cleared once the Mail has commissioned a further 198 articles on this commercial disaster. Failing that, Rosie might think of staying in agriculture. She'd have to do another about turn, and the cost of the hydroponic lamps would require a loan. But "Old Rizzla" has flipped on cannabis before, and the suppleness of her mind will permit her to do so again.