Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Shame on our treatment of the PM
Monday 05 February 2007
Listening to the PM's rare appearance on Friday's Today programme - and him daring to face John Humphrys is the surest sign of real panic at No 10 - which of us felt other than ashamed when Mr Blair sourced all his difficulties to the media? You couldn't fail to sympathise with his weariness at the persecution, or be struck by the originality of his complaint about newspapers concentrating on trivia to the exclusion of all else.
I don't think I'd heard the case put so well since the night before, when Hazel Blears - always a disarmingly free thinker on these matters - made it on Newsnight. At the risk of seeming presumptuous by judging a man still in office, it's increasingly clear that Mr Blair's fatal flaw has been to isolate himself completely from influential media players... a noble and purist declaration of independence, certainly, but one that returns to haunt him now. The continual snubbing of Rupert Murdoch looks, with hindsight, especially foolhardy. If only Mr Blair had flown around the world to ingratiate himself with News Corporation, or invited its chairman to dictate British policy on Europe, perhaps The Times might have been at least neutral, if not actively supportive.
Had Mr Blair arrived at a recent party at the home of Mr Murdoch's son-in-law Matthew Freud on the arm of Sun editor Rebekah Wade, maybe she would have run a leader on Friday parroting No 10's line that the police must " put up or shut up". Had he made more time for previous Mirror editor Piers Morgan, who reported as few as 56 private meetings, might that title have carried a similar leader? The lesson of the Blair years is clear for his successors. Only at your gravest peril do you remain loftily aloof from the media.
THE ONLY sadness about the scandal's latest eruption has been the absence of a palpably demented Alastair Campbell dismissing the whole thing as the froth and foment of the Westminster Village on Channel 4 News. Or even, as he described the police investigation last April, "a passing political hoo-ha". Ali's absence is disturbing. I assume he's in his usual spot (in the kitchen chair, staring dreamily at the Downing Street hotline, disconnected three years ago), but if anyone knows better, get in touch.
NEWS THAT 200,000 listeners to The Archers were driven out of Ambridge by racy storylines comes as a comfort to those, like myself, who yearn to pop the country in the Tardis and return it to 1956. Why godfearing folk, urban or rural, should be subjected to a gay wedding, let alone something as outlandish as a married woman almost embarking on an affair, is beyond me.
There's no word from Archers boss Vanessa Whitburn as to whether the plot line in which Nigel Pargetter is caught exhuming and attempting to penetrate the late Nelson Gabriel, scheduled for late March, will now be abandoned. Let's hope so. As the drop in the number of listeners proves, many of us - I speak here for Peter Alliss and all chronic sufferers from Audible Pipe Syndrome (APS) - don't want this muck on the old crystal set.
SPEAKING OF APS, very good to hear Sir Tim Rice pop up on Just a Minute. For years this show has been far too dependent on guests with some capacity to amuse. The odd appearance in what's known within BBC radio as "the Stilgoe Slot" for a portly stalwart of the Lord's Taverners, with a range of cricketing anecdotes that could stun a charging rhino into a stupor, lends balance and gravitas.
THERE IS disappointment at the BBC, meanwhile, at ante post favourite David Puttnam's withdrawal from the race to become chairman. Still, 23 people have applied, and while, no doubt, they are all outstanding candidates, my own preference is for the highly regarded Channel 4 chairman, Luke Johnson, whose eloquent, if verbose, defence of his station during the recent Celebrity Big Brother controversy so impressed us all.
Luke is the new favourite at Burlington Bertie (100-30), with Baroness Jay, David Dimbleby, Diddy David Hamilton and Melvyn Bragg bracketed on 6-1. Prime Ministerial special envoy Lord Levy is the week's market mover, slashed from 66-1 to 17-2 after sustained support in the Totteridge area of north London, and it's 12-1 about Chris Patten, Liz Forgan and John Lewis Partnership boss Sir Stuart Hanson, whose manifesto includes a pledge to introduce a white electricals department to the reception area at White City and make visitors wait at least two hours to be served. It's 18-1 bar those.
A WORD OF praise, finally, for Kelvin Zola-MacKenzie, who devotes much of his column in the Sun to a J'Accuse-style attack on the jailing of News of the World Royal Bugger Clive Goodman. The four-month term was "an absolute disgrace", insists Kelvin, and a plain, old-fashioned establishment fix.
In support of this, he cleverly adduces the facts that the judge, Mr Justice Gross, went to Oxford and enjoys cricket and sailing. It's impossible to counter that sort of watertight forensic argument, and I'm not ashamed to admit to welling up on reading his tribute to this "49-year-old family man with an unblemished record".
When the boxer Rubin Carter was falsely imprisoned for murder, Bob Dylan wrote "Hurricane". Surely Kelvin can find someone to produce a ballad for Clive. What's Phil Collins up to these days?
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