Matthew Norman's Media Diary

With friends like Alastair Campbell...
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The Independent Online

In a shock bid to give Boris Johnson's mayoral campaign a fuel-injected boost, Alastair Campbell appears in the Daily Mirror affecting to support Ken Livingstone. It's an absolute meisterwork of subliminal messaging. Almost every point he overtly makes against Boris covertly reinforces doubts about Ken. By ridiculing Boris for being funny on Have I Got News For You, for example, he subtly contrasts this with Ken's appearances on the abysmal political panel-show A Kick In The Ballots, broadcast in London in the mid-1990s. When he berates Boris for understating the cost of reviving Routemaster buses by almost £100m, the subtext is that Ken's Olympics budget missed the boat by some £15bn. Yet the most effective propaganda relies on Ali's self-sacrificial lampooning of his own judgment. When he dwells on Boris's background and schooling, and on that reference to "piccaninnies", how can we help but remember that Ali was a great friend and admirer of that old Etonian ubersnob Alan "Bongo Bongo Land" Clark? "He would be a disaster for London," concludes Ali of Boris. "And a disaster for London is a disaster for Britain." By trotting out the identical line he pushed eight years ago about the incumbent he now pretends to eulogise, Ali is of course saying "Look, my judgment is so laughable that your only safe bet is to reverse every word I've written." Sheer genius.

* The one journalist who has arguably done more than Alastair to damage Ken, by the way, is Andrew Gilligan, whose brilliant, sustained reporting of mayoral dodginess rightly won him Journalist of the Year at the recent Oscars of Our Industry. Isn't it lovely to see the pair moving in the same direction after all that passed between them?

* Speaking of Ali's alma mater, I've been disappointed with its work since the regular feature, Most Credible Anti-Cameron Daily Mirror Story of the Week, was inaugurated last month. Things did pick up on Thursday, however, with a story about a gaggle of Conservative councillors in Yorkshire and the West Midlands complaining about a shadow transport minister's failure to heed their fears that the party's deregulation policy would damage local bus networks. "The attack is humiliating for Mr Cameron ahead of next week's local elections..." It certainly is. It's the Rev Jeremiah Wright on wheels. Not bad, especially the "Official Tory Verdict" strapline at the top of the page, but they can still do better than that.

* Well done to Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan for his stoical response to news of his latest salary package. Andy's avoidance of public moaning at seeing his income barely doubled to £1.2 million after orchestrating such a triumphant year for the channel does him much credit. In 2007, to recap briefly, he oversaw that controversy-free Celeb BB featuring Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty, the Richard & Judy phone fiddle (Ofcom fine: £1m), and the channel's highly principled refusal to yield to Princes William and Harry's request not to broadcast a high minded documentary entitled Diana; The Witnesses In The Tunnel. It is true that, unlike Mark Thompson at the BBC, Andy was gracious enough to accept his bonus, but this was entirely a matter of courtesy since it came to only £98,000. One sort of understands this penny pinching in troubled economic times when state-sponsored employers are loathe to antagonise the public by palpably over-rewarding key staff, but C4 chairman Luke Johnson goes too far to assuage the pathologically envious. We know that as Pizza Express owner Luke shrunk the pizzas and imposed a strict limit of three black olives per pie, but surely it's time to move on.

* He can't say he wasn't warned. Time and again this column has expressed its deep concern about Bloomsbury boss Nigel Newton and the idiosyncratic management style that has done such wonders for the turnover of London bars catering for the leaving-do market. Now he's losing big-name authors as well. The Daily Telegraph devoted Friday's page three to an appreciation of his work, centring on the defection of Joanna Trollope, who's bleedin' had it with the exodus of talented staff; and quoting another, unnamed, novelist's remark that Nigel's Harry Potter fixation has led to anyone not called JK Rowling being treated "with complete disregard". Nigel, an Anglophile American closely modelled on Dan Aykroyd's preppy character in Trading Places, with a dash of Niles Crane from Frasier for luck, must reassert a grip before others follow Ms Trollope.

* The best of British to Kelvin MacKenzie in his attempt to be elected a local councillor in Elmbridge on Thursday. This underrated single-issue politician is standing on the populist "How-dare-they-raise-the-parking-fee-at-my-local-railway-station-to-£5-a-day-when-I'm-down-to-my-last-£10-million-from-the-sale-of-TalkSport?" ticket. Leading historians, including Andrew KFC Roberts, are citing Kelvin's campaign against the iniquitous 43 per cent hike as "potentially the most significant transport-related fight for social justice since Rosa Parks". How all this will play in gin'n'Jag Surrey is anyone's guess, but we have our hopes.

* A lively first week as Radio 5 Live controller for Adrian van Klaveren, finally, whose tenure began with the announcement of Steve McClaren's hiring as a Euro 2008 pundit. Adrian is also thought to have commissioned a six-part financial series, Keeping The Lid On Inflation, although obviously this depends on how the political career of its presenter, Robert Mugabe, pans out.