Matthew Norman: Liz Jones, poster girl for Big Society
Thursday 20 May 2010
In the most startling reinvention this industry has known in decades, the Daily Mail shrugs off its reactionary stereotype to host an intriguingly hybrid social experiment. The pit canary here is the magnificently prolific Liz Jones, who single-handedly spearheads two major breakthroughs – the first recorded case of Mr Cameron's Big Society in action, and the inaugural deployment of a newspaper column as care in the community. As many of you will know, Liz likes to keep the readership minutely informed of life, latterly dwelling on the £150,000 debt she says has depressed her even more than her rejection by the Somerset neighbours who took mystifying umbrage at being depicted as toothless imbeciles. "Being in debt," wrote Liz, "is worse than anything I have experienced." Given what Liz has experienced – and short of alien abduction, bless her, what has she not? – that's going some. "When you have no money people assume it's because you are lazy or profligate." The rank injustice. The very idea that a woman who spent £26,000 on a bat sanctuary, and lavishes more than £1,000 a year on mineral water, tends towards the wasteful!
Yet cruel as some may be, others show only tender and empathetic concern. Liz reports receiving 4,100 emails of help from a loyal army of readers, including the widowed, the disabled and a man on £46 a week, and concludes by announcing the restoration of her faith in human nature. So say all of us to that. This vista of the poor, sick, and the lonely and elderly rallying to the aid of a woman on upwards of £250,000 per annum is as spiritually uplifting a vision as any witnessed since Band Aid, or possibly the arrest of Bernie Madoff. As Liz herself observes, who will speak of the broken society now?
As for her colleague Melanie Phillips, she leavens her outrage over British Airways staff with a dash of sorrow. "What's turned the kindly BA cabin crew who cured my fear of flying," asks the headline, "into suicidal strikers?" Encroaching onto Liz's confessional turf, Mad Mel reveals that her terror of the skies kept her grounded until some 15 years ago; and that when she finally took what we probably should avoid calling the plunge, she was so scared by the sound of the engines (engines? In a plane? What shall we do?) that she "grabbed the startled man sitting next to me – fortunately by the arm". Fortunately indeed when she might have grabbed him in the cockpit. Instead, she confined herself to visiting the flight deck. "In those innocent days before 9/11," the paean to the sadly exhausted altruism of the cabin crew went on, "they would take me trembling into the cockpit to talk to the cheery pilots (who, I shuddered to observe, weren't even looking where they were going)". Now I'm not sure about this, but to the naked eye that looks almost like a joke. Could it be that MM is auditioning to join that elite corps of Mail stars whose work is adorned with the helpful tag line "Our brilliant writer, tongue firmly in cheek ..."?
Rumours that Nick Robinson is poised to vacate the post of BBC political editor for a berth on the Today programme bring the first show of betting on his replacement. His ITV equivalent Tom Bradby is 100-30 favourite, with BBC election stars Jon Sopel and Laura Kuenssberg on 15-2. Jim Rosenthal and Lemmy from Motorhead are all 10-1 shots, while Martha Kearney looks generously priced at 16s. You can still get 20-1 "with a run" about Nicky Campbell (when Nicky claims to have turned down the job, BetFred will refund the money). Times polling guru Peter Riddell, a two-time winner of the Thin Unpompous Political Columnist of the Year, is on 25s. Swampy, Nick's deputy James Landale and Lady Sovereign are all 33-1, while Andrew Neil has been slashed to 66s after John Higgins was overheard discussing his prospects with members of an Indonesian syndicate. It's 100-1 bar those.
In the US, Newt Gingrich has been on Fox News to attack Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Newt is shocked – shocked – that while she was its dean, Harvard Law School took donations from Saudi Arabia. You can see why a staunch supporter of the family Bush, always so careful to avoid the taint of Saudi cash, would feel strongly. The odd bit is that Fox News's Sunday presenter failed to exhibit the usual rigorous balance by pointing out (as the Huffington Post has kindly done) that the second largest shareholder in News Corporation, after Rupert Murdoch, is one Alwaleed bin Talal. He could be one of the Westchester bin Talals, of course, and not the Saudi prince of that name. No doubt Fox will end the confusion this coming Sabbath.
The Daily Mirror continues to share the fruits of its unrivalled political access. Mirror Exclusive of the Week goes to the scoop that Jon Cruddas, who had announced something vaguely on those lines under his own by-line elsewhere, would not be running for Labour leader. This contest presents a dilemma for Mirror political supremo Kevin Maguire. Kevin will naturally be proud that David Miliband is the MP for his native South Shields, but must set that against his close friendship with Ed Balls. Somehow you suspect this will be resolved soon, and that the Milibands and Andy Burnham won't relish the coverage between now and September.
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