Matthew Norman: Oh Mandy, you gave without taking
Monday 07 December 2009
If heaven truly loveth a sinner that repenteth, the celestial choir must be singing endless hosannahs today in adoration of Peter Mandelson. His lordship's declaration of war against Rupert Murdoch is as convincing an act of penitence as any since Jonathan Aitken sheathed the trusty sword of British justice to embrace Christian humility.
In defence of Ofcom, which David Cameron promised to dismantle shortly before the Sun switched allegiance, Mandy has strong words for News Corporation. He accuses Mr Murdoch of endangering the traditions of British broadcasting, and threatening the media impartiality of which there has been no doughtier defender than Mandy himself. How long ago it seems that Mr Tony Blair arrived at a Christmas party at the home of Rupert's daughter Elisabeth, and Mandy was mingling on Corfu with Lis and husband Matthew Freud. It's even longer ago, in 1998, that I asked the then Trade Secretary what specifically petrified the old goat about a more politically integrated Europe. "What you need to understand," said Mandy, "is that on its own no government is strong enough to stand up to Murdoch. But together ..." That was then. Where this conversion on the Road to Opposition will lead is anyone's guess, but two edicts seem inevitable. The first is that, before joining the coming election campaign, Alastair Campbell must end his cosy relationship with The Times. The second is a retroactive windfall tax on News Corp to recover the billions it has avoided paying since 1997. A public mea culpa from Mandy for naively trusting in Mr Murdoch's impartiality is optional. But it would be nice.
A judge's pain
Also enjoying a dramatic deathbed conversion is Jack Straw. The Injustice Secretary suddenly develops the urge to reform our draconian libel laws. It's a lovely thought, but the timing couldn't be worse. Only last week our High Court friend David Eady revealed his distress at media criticism. Unnamed "friends" (we can rule out the Appeal Court judges who so rudely keep reversing him) said that he is "profoundly hurt" by the attacks. Awww, we love you really, Eady J, just as you love us. Now be a brave little soldier, dry those salty tears, and get working on a plan to thwart that beastly Straw's ambition to curtail your power.
A friend reports a novelty on visiting BBC TV Centre last Monday lunchtime. Standing in the area known as "stage door", where tour parties congregate, she found herself facing a bank of nine screens showing BBC News Channel, CBeebies, trailers for forthcoming shows, and so on. In the bottom middle box, meanwhile, she was intrigued to note a foreign language film in which a prostitute, possibly Brazilian, was languidly fellating a gentleman caller in a toilet. Then the location moved to the street outside, where a bunch of her colleagues, clad only in silver thongs and merrily waving their breasts, advertised their wares. "Get off my patch, you tart," ran a subtitle. A group of pensioners shuffled past the screens en route to their coach while a group of disabled people wheeled by in the other direction, all in blissful ignorance, and another serene White City afternoon sidled on towards dusk.
I am more concerned than ever about Jon Gaunt. When Gaunty's Sun column was ditched in October, the consolation was that we were promised a daily blog. But after a few early postings, this appears to have ceased. He wants to study Melanie Phillips's work rate. Mad Mel can blog thrice daily when the mood takes, and never fails to raise a chuckle. I haven't got round to the entry headlined "Less Than Qualified Punditry", but it must be that belated apology for promoting the false link between MMR and autism that led to a measles epidemic. After that humiliation, MM wouldn't dream of disguising any private hunches about global warming and leaked emails as informed scientific opinion. She's not daft you know.
The Vulcan mind-meld between Andrew Neil and Fraser Nelson sustains. On Friday, Spectator editor Fraser reassured worried Guardian readers that Labour's tactic of banging on about Eton has little impact on voting intentions. Frankly, I was terrified that Andrew, who has long delighted us with his disdain for entrenched privilege, would take deep umbrage. But a trip to his BBC blog revealed his agreement that voters aren't interested in the class warfare of which he's finally tired. He even posited (taxi to Bletchley, taxi to Bletchley) that Gordon Brown "is just as privileged as Mr Cameron". There is no firm indication as to when Fraser means to replace his lustrous head of hair with a scouring pad, but Paddy Power makes early February its 100-30 favourite.
For a rigorously unpretentious take on Tiger Woods, finally, where to turn but the man to whom Roger Federer is as myriad-minded as Shakespeare? "Sport is our modern mythology, and every myth needs a hero," writes Simon Barnes in The Times. "And so we lose track of the truth: that these unfolding tales are played out by real people, who eat and sleep and defecate. The fault is not in sportsmen for failing to be perfect: it is in us, for our profound and foolish need for them to be so." Painful yet true. Just think of all those years we spent confusing sports stars with paradigms of saintliness ... and now, thwack, our moral universe is sliced to oblivion by a randy golfer. It's a dreadful thing to have blind faith ridiculed, but at least it offers insight into Mandy's bewilderment on having his trust in the goodness of Rupert Murdoch betrayed.
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