Matthew Norman: Simon Cowell casts his vote

Media Diary
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The Independent Online

If this should prove the last general election in which our newspapers exerted any influence over voting intentions, at least the end came with a bang and not a whimper. Neatly reflecting the campaign itself, the battle between The Sun and the Daily Mirror for ownership of the most unhinged partisanship went to the wire, but The Sun nicked it at the death thanks to Simon Cowell. Devoting yesterday's front page and an inside spread to the musings of this curiously underrated political analyst was a masterstroke. Mr Cowell, who by happenstance seems precisely to share the paper's opinions on hung parliaments and everything else, wrote of his love for his country with all the moving passion expected of the Beverly Hills expat. "I have always hated celebrities lecturing people on politics," he began, adding that the business of choosing governments is different from voting for X Factor contestants.

Having cleared that conundrum up, Simon focused his attention on knife crime, part of his solution to which is "zero tolerance". How true, and how good to see him leading from the front on this. As that same Sun reported last September, 16-year-old X Factor contestant Curtis Moore had been tagged after "terrorising" the town of Redditch with his blade. "The knife revelations are a blow to X Factor bosses," reported the paper, "who allowed Curtis on the show despite his crimes. But yesterday they said they would not kick him out." Zero tolerance of knife crime, then, with the one tiny loophole when there's money to be made. Already leading political academics, Vernon Bogdanor among them, are describing this as the most coherent and potentially decisive music business contribution to the Tory cause since Kenny Everett called for the kicking away of Michael Foot's stick, and it's hard to disagree with that.

As for the Mirror, its tough, no-nonsense counter-strike came in the terrifying form of TV's Hardest Man, Ross Kemp (Ross Wade as was). Ross, who hasn't summoned the law to protect him from a seven-stone redhead for a while, was pictured yesterday alongside Sarah and Gordon at a campaign event. For those who glanced at the snap and assumed the caption was wrong, we would point out that Zippy from Rainbow is not a Labour fan (he's a noted supporter of Ukip, and has even been touted as the party's next leader in the aftermath of Lord Pearson's legendary interview with Jon Sopel). Ross would have become a Labour MP years ago but for his official duties as Forces Sweetheart. The sooner the troops leave Helmand and free him for his calling, you can't help feeling, the better for British democracy.

Meanwhile, it was reassuring to hear the Prime Minister, whose party's final election broadcast Ross consented to front, taking a loftily dismissive view of the celebrity endorsement on 5 Live yesterday morning with Nicky Campbell. "Come on, it's not about what one or two celebrities think," said Gordon. "Ross would say this is an election that's going to be decided by the people." It has come to something when the Prime Minister's eve of election address to the nation draws on the political thinking of Ross Kemp. What, I'm not sure. But definitely something. Incidentally, that was among the best hour's worth of phone-in I've ever heard, thanks partly to Nicky's admirably sharp questioning of Gordon (the man's hardly to all tastes, but there's no denying the talent); but primarily due to the call from Alan, a lung cancer patient who calmly reported how he is relentlessly bullied by the benefits people to look for work, before adding a stark, "I'm dying." Unforgettable stuff.

As for Mirror political supremo Kevin Maguire, to him go the laurels for the election's Most Wittily Self-Parodic Bracketed Thought. "The Daily Mirror's anti-Tory tactical voting guide today caused a stir," blogged Kevin on Tuesday, "not least because it (unintentionally) coincided with Ed Balls ... dropping heavy hints for electors to use their heads as well as hearts to keep out Cameron." Unintentionally indeed. Can you picture Kevin's shock on discovering that his own ferocious tribal loyalism had yielded to more pragmatic concerns at precisely the same moment as Ed's. It's a miracle, it's a miracle ...

Finally, another instance of Jungian synchronicity afflicts The Times, which suddenly finds itself aligned with the Tories over Liberal Democrat defence policy. A fortnight ago, on the eve of the foreign policy TV debate, it splashed with the news that several leading generals had boosted Nick Clegg over Trident. "Writing in The Times, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham, etc ... express 'deep concern' that the future of Trident has been excluded from the Strategic Defence Review that will follow the election." On Tuesday, the paper splashed on the subject once again. "Nick Clegg's credibility on national security is called into question today by senior defence and intelligence figures," went the intro. "Writing to The Times they said that Liberal Democrat policies risked leaving Britain exposed to terrorism and diminished on the world stage." God knows what explains this startling volte-face. But perhaps Mr Cowell wasn't the only US-based media mogul with ambitions to shape the outcome of this wonderfully bizarre election.