Matthew Norman: Time to stop these tantrums, Boris
Monday 06 April 2009
The Dispatches hatchet job on Boris indelicately reminded us of the London Mayor's passive part in his schoolfriend Darius Guppy's aborted plan to give the NoW's Stuart Collier a sound thrashing (via hired help) for investigating his affairs. Myself, I feel Boris emerged well from the tape of their chat. His determination that Mr Collier avoid a trip to intensive care – he'd be "fucking furious", he told Guppy, if the hack suffered more than a cracked rib –does him only credit. Even so, there was a dismissively patrician tone to the conversation that is thankfully passé today.
David Cameron's hiring of former NoW editor Andy Coulson to head his spin operation may or may not be a time bomb primed to explode in his face. Mr Coulson's abrupt departure from the title, following his royal reporter's conviction for bugging princely mobiles, remains cloaked in mystery. Given his reticence on the matter, we'll probably never learn exactly what Mr Coulson knew in advance of a criminal offence, for which a payment of more than £100,000 to a freelance operative was authorised. I'm convinced he resigned purely on the honourable, Lord Carringtonesque grounds that one takes the rap for an underling's misdemeanour, regardless of personal involvement.
In a sense, however, this is a red herring. The important point is that where Etonian Tories used to collude towards doling out punishment to NoW figures, they now place the Conservative Party's immediate future largely in their hands. If there's been a more significant expression of Tory democratisation than this since the election of a Lincolnshire grocer's daughter as their leader, I'd love to know what it is, and would advise Mr Coulson to put this anti-elitist message at the heart of the electoral campaign.
Ali G in da House
But we mustn't dwell on the Guppy affair. Boris's error, after all, was merely one of omission, much like Clive Tyldesley's failure to interrupt Ron Atkinson during his racist rant about Marcel Desailly. A greater threat to Boris's ambition – and well-informed people believe he will be the de facto leader of the opposition should Mr Cameron form a government – is the shortness of temper illustrated by his storming out of last week's select committee grilling about transport failures in the snow. Here he could learn from Mr Cameron himself, who also has a short fuse, but heroically kept it from igniting during Wednesday's interview on Radio 5 Live with Victoria Derbyshire. Victoria continually pressed him for precise spending plans he couldn't conceivably yet have made, affecting the obtuse incomprehension of her dimmest phone-in caller. Exaggerated slowness of mind designed to goad a subject into blowing up is a cunning interviewing technique, as fans of Ali G will agree. Yet Mr Cameron resisted losing his rag. Now there's a tape Boris could study if he's serious about becoming the second successive Bullingdonian to lead his party.
Stay off the bench
I am disturbed to read that Fiona Bruce contemplates becoming a magistrate. Playing a part in the justice system is a noble aim, of course, but the modern history of media figures and the bench isn't pretty. Two words suffice. Jonathan; and Myerson.
Out of the blue
Of all the pieces about Jacqui Smith's expenses, the champion came from the gilded keyboard of The Times's David Aaronovitch, who struck his bespoke only-grown-up-in-town tone with imperious splendour. Admittedly the point he concentrated on swatting – that there's something innately wicked about watching blue movies – was the one almost nobody bothered to make. Even Anila Baig's main objection was that Jacqui wasn't at home to share the viewing, and it isn't very long since Anila wore the hijab in her picture byline in The Sun.
Be charitable, please
However, David's gleeful prediction that the police will investigate this disgraceful breach of Ms Smith's privacy was moving, while who can disagree that the real scandal (apart from our "stinking prurience") is the scandalous underpayment that forces our elected representatives to rely on their expenses? With their two salaries and all the allowances, in fact, it's hard to see how Jacqui and Richard's joint income can be worth more than £300,000 per annum.
As for the newspaper that revealed this tale of impoverished public servants, an imaginary bottle of champagne to anyone who can cite the last time the Sunday Express broke a cracking story. A fictitious magnum if it postdated the conference at Yalta.
Queen of folk
Still with post-war British history, I enjoyed Clive Aslet's rousing paean to the Queen in The Daily Telegraph. Following that adorable mutual back-rubbing with Michelle Obama. The Queen "doesn't just embody an institution but has eaten meals with every world leader since the Second World War", observed Clive. A jeroboam, also phantasmal, for the first person to provide a photo of Her Maj singing Georgian folk songs over the port with Joseph Stalin.
A sense of perspective
In these troublesome times, finally, what a relief to find a major newspaper figure skilled in resisting the lure of apocalyptic hyperbole. "Saving The New York Times now ranks," said that title's executive editor Bill Keller last week, "with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause." We wish Bill the swiftest of recoveries.
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