Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Campbell's chance for closure...
Monday 19 May 2008
Of all the countless words expended on Cherie Blair's self-effacing Speaking For Myself (Fill That Trolley Till The Designer Gear Spills Over The Sides Press, 16.99), my eye is particularly caught by an astute piece by Kelvin MacKenzie in The Sun.
Honing in on the segment dealing with the aftermath of David Kelly's death, asking why Tony Blair had to spend most of his waking hours pacifying a distraught Alastair Campbell. "He always claimed the leaking had nothing to do with him but, according to the book, he was enormously emotional," writes Kelv. "Was there something we don't know?" An excellent question resurrecting the notion that Ali might inadvertently have misled that least credulous of retired Law Lords Brian Hutton on the matter. That Ali has form in this area, having once been described by a High Court judge as an unreliable witness, makes the need for rapid rebuttal especially urgent, and an action for libel is clearly indicated.
From personal experience I know Ali isn't notably phobic about issuing legal threats when the mood takes him, so the inference from any failure to refute the implication is very plain. The benefits of such a suit are obvious. For one thing it would be the most captivating legal encounter between hacks since Andrew Neil and dear old Perry Worsthorne, and it would get Ali out of the house for a couple of weeks. More significantly, it would allow him finally to scotch the rumour that he openly or, more likely, covertly nudged Dr Kelly's name into the public domain. Closure is what the poor lamb needs. Then he can stop mooching in front of the disconnected Downing Street hotline in the kitchen, and get on with his life.
Not that he doesn't get out at all, and last week Ali popped up on Newsnight to discuss the Government's difficulties. This continual turning of the other cheek by the BBC, which paid him handsomely to turn his diaries into Jackanory for insomniacs, is a bit Jesusy for some tastes, but my problem is that the Beeb is clearly the wrong showcase for his talents. After James Whale's sacking for breaching electoral law, there must be a vacancy at TalkSport. Is there anyone alive better suited by nature, intellect and temperament to a career as a shock jock?
* Speaking of which brings us to the weekly sampling of Jon Gaunt. In another tour de force, my favourite columnist treats Sun readers to his thoughts on that fatal stabbing of a young man in Oxford Street. "Some cynics would say that the man ... who was on bail for a horrific gang rape," he posits, "got his just deserts and saved us all the hassle of a trial, but I couldn't possibly comment." Typically clever stuff, but I do see the faintest flaw. Try as he might, Gaunty still cannot get his head around this innocent until proven guilty thing. It doesn't seem an especially opaque or difficult concept, yet week after week it tantalisingly eludes him. Ah well, one day.
* Yet another inspired Sun columnist who has struggled with sacred precepts of British justice is David Blunkett, but it seems he may be a sinner that repenteth. The press pack for a channel Five summer four-parter Banged Up With Blunkett has arrived, and what a delectable appetiser it is. In the show Blunkers will head a "parole board" (publicity hungry academics and psychologists) following 10 young chaps on the cusp of serious criminality and 10 old lags as they cohabit a disused Scarborough jail in the quest to prevent the former emulating the latter. This "bold social experiment" sounds an absolute riot (well, we can all dream), and Blunkers sees it as a chance to rehabilitate himself as well. "This experiment ... is like a second chance for me," he says. "Over four years I had the opportunity to do some of these things and I failed to invest sufficiently in the experiments that make it possible." If that's an admission of abject failure at the Home Office, his candour does him credit. No word yet as to whether Blunkers will be giving the lads private tuition in avoiding such vexing antisocial behaviours as feckless fatherhood. But, like all self-respecting Obamaniacs, I live in hope.
* A subtle change is noted in the Mirror's political tone. Shards of doubt about Gordon begin to pierce the leader column, while (presumably under instruction from No 10, which has woken up to the backlash) the Tory Toff epithet has all but vanished. For all that, the paper can't wean itself off alleged Tory funding scandals of interest only to itself. "David Cameron was plunged into a sleaze storm yesterday as it emerged his frontbench team pocketed hundreds of thousands in secret funding," ran an intro on Friday. A hurricane, surely, at the very least. No one outside the Mirror office saw it coming, in truth, but then we're all Michael Fishes now.
* High drama on television's smuggest and most addictively irksome quiz show, finally, as BBC2's Eggheads crash to an historic first defeat to a solo opponent. Between them there's nothing that the quintet don't know, with one depressing exception. Asked to identify the editor of the News of the World and given a choice of three names, they plumped for Rebekah Wade. This will have come as a blow to the incumbent's ego, and in a bid to bring him to wider public attention I am thinking of declaring the month of June to be Colin Myler Month. Any detail about the enigma who cracked the Eggheads would be welcome.
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