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Matthew Norman

Matthew Norman: Shed a tear for the life of Brian


As the expenses aftershock continues to radiate, this seems a good moment to stand back and consider what the exes scandal tells us about this industry. Here I am indebted to Brian Binley, the Tory MP who contributed such a splendid piece to Friday’s Independent.

Livid at the exposure of the curious arrangement whereby he rented a flat from his own telemarketing firm, Mr Binley deployed the infra-red heat-seeker to located the buried truth. Where the naïve see the Telegraph’s revelations as a journalistic triumph, if not a glorious last hurrah for a business fading into obsolescence, this democratic titan opened our eyes to reality. This “McCarthyite witch-hunt”, he explained, is in fact “doing the reputation of British journalism a lot of damage”. More disturbingly, receiving an email on the matter from the Telegraph has given Mr Binley insight into life “in a totalitarian state, what it must have been like living in terror of the infamous knock on the door from the Stasi and the KGB”.

With the 60th anniversary of the publication of 1984 so recent, Mr Binley’s warning couldn’t be more timely. Today we have not one but two Big Brothers, not that you could tell them apart, directing a reign of terror from their Oceanic power base on Brecqhou, via such Inner Party henchmen as editor Will Lewis and Ben Brogan, and through such Thought Police as the unnamed woman reporter who dragged Winston Binley into Room 101 to face insolent questioning about his financial affairs. And now the project is complete, we Outer Party drones having learnt to be grateful to, if not yet to love, the Barclays. If Mr Binley doesn’t become the third Independent writer in a row to win the 2010 Orwell Prize for political journalism, I for one will want to know why.

Brotherly love

Will Lewis has a Big Brother of his own, of course, and hats off to Simon on his appointment as Gordon Brown’s official spokesman. It’s an enviable post, coming not only with salary but also perks including a protective uniform modelled on that worn by a linebacker in American football, and much joy may he have of it. It goes without saying that we will be scouring the Telegraph for fraternal indiscretions and a softer line on the PM.

Mirror, Mirror

There is certainly a growing gap in the market, with the Daily Mirror becoming less slavish by the day. Indeed, rumour has it that its engaging editor Richard Wallace holds the personal opinion that Gordon should go, and was summoned to No 10 recently by a PM desperate to shore up his last line of defence. For now the line is just about holding, but should Richard pull the plug – possibly during the party conference season – Gordon would instantly dribble away. That must give Richard a delicious sense of the hegemonic power so lucidly detailed by Mr Binley.

Rising bride

I was sad to miss Rebekah Wade’s holy wedlock to Charlie Brooks (it is precisely to avoid non-delivery fiascos of this kind that Lord Mandelson wishes to privatise the Royal Mail), a racing journalist who was at school with wedding guest David Cameron. From Walford to Eton in one marital move so vertical is Rebekah’s wifely social ascent that her next husband, should, God forbid, one be required, is scheduled to be the Duke of Norfolk. There has been no nuptial report in The Sun yet, but they may be saving it to coincide with the next Sun executive Butlin’s weekend among those readers its editor knows as “the chavs”.

Fruity tale

By way of a belated wedding gift, Daily Mirror Exclusive of the Week goes to The Sun for Alex Peake’s “Yes! I Was Real Man From Del Monte”. This captivating scoop, only secured after its subject was closeted away in a Northants hotel under heavy newsdesk guard, concerned a certain Robert Smith, whose career sending the pineapple growers of the globe into delirium was the model for that TV ad campaign. God knows why this was buried away on page 19, but it was captivating all the same.

Singing the blues

Happily second place does go to the Mirror, in Friday’s edition of which ITV boss Peter Fincham took two pages to laud recent triumphs. The Susan Boyle passage was touching.. “The intensity of the experience was hard for her but she’s now on the tour,” he wrote. “She’s feeling better…”

Thank goodness for that. Not Peter’s fault that he hadn’t seen that edition’s page three exclusive, by Mark Jeffries, about how Ms Boyle was pulled from the previous night’s Britain’s Got Talent live show after standing on the balcony of her hotel room screeching: “Where’s my cat. I want my cat! I need my cat!”

Gerry’s obsession

Still with mental health issues, finally, I am baffled by a show of pro-BBC sentiment from Gerald Kaufman, whose long, lamented stint chairing the media select committee was marked by quite the opposite; but who’s had such a tough time on exes over such essentials as the £220 pair of grapefruit bowls required by that self-diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (he also claimed the max for food; the current man from Del Monte must have said yes to some very fancy grapefruits).

Why Gerald made a Commons speech opposing the diversion of licence fee funds to ITV regional programming – a rigidly Murdochian line, incidentally – is unclear. There have been whispers that BBC1 is looking for a guest for the forthcoming 12-part series House of Celebrity Fruit OCDs, but these remain resolutely unconfirmed.