Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Sit back and enjoy the freakshow
Monday 16 June 2008
Assuming the leathery old bird does stand against David Davis in the by-election, you have to say that it's marvellous. No really, it's just completely spiffing. If there's one thing a country facing all manner of gloom needs to cheer it up, that thing is Kelvin MacKenzie rallying the good people of Yorkshire to the the Bang-Up-The-Mussies-For-Ever-For-Having-Funny-Foreign-Names banner. Having said all that, there will be concerns in the psychiatric community. There'll be some excitement too, of course, especially perhaps for Oliver Sachs, because as Dr Niles Crane once observed, it's always a thrill to be in at the birth of a new obsessive-compulsive disorder. So far as I know no one has yet documented a case of a man seeking to offset the ravages of middle age by repeatedly making a princely arse of himself with facetious electoral campaigns. It is only a few weeks since Kelvin stood for his Surrey ward on the How-Dare-They-Raise-The-Cost-Of-Parking-At-My-Local-Railway-Station-When-I'm-Barely-Worth £10m ticket, without huge success. Apparently the idea for this latest campaign – and one hopes this becomes a tri-monthly distraction – came directly from Rupert Murdoch, who may well want to balance his newfound love for Barack Obama by creating an anti-immigration Sun Party, to rival the BNP, over here. If so, it behoves to overlook the faint hint of a mixed message in order to enjoy the sport.
Should Kelvin endure second thoughts about his career change, he could take succour from Denis McShane's smooth transition to politics after a contentious career in journalism. When, working for Oxford student newspaper Cherwell, Denis splashed with a fabricated story accusing the editor of rival paper Isis of sucking up to its owner, one Robert Maxwell, by employing his son Philip, the Isis staff eschewed the kind of legal counter-strike that would become their proprietor's calling card. They simply kidnapped Denis, drove him off to a meadow, stripped him and – in a haunting echo of Goldfinger – sprayed almost every inch of him with luminous pink paint.
A man who can hitchhike back to his college wearing not a stitch and glowing like a radioactive flamingo serves as a shining example of the fortitude he may well need in the weeks ahead.
As for his political mentor, Mr Murdoch's authority seems to be waning in the US. A while ago, showing the sort of tonal sensitivity you'd expect, a Fox News presenter used the term "lynching mob" regarding Michelle Obama, but that was before the guv'nor's paean for the Illinois senator. Since then, another Fox regular referred to Michelle as Barack's "baby mama", while others have advanced the idea that Obama clunking fists with a fellow at a victory celebration was somehow a terrorist gesture. If the people at Fox are no longer interested in what their owner thinks, then thank God for Britain, where he can tell former editors to don jester's bells for by-election merriment, and know he won't be disobeyed.
More problems with basic comprehension afflict Jon Gaunt. In one item in The Sun, my favourite columnist mentions that a large majority support the 42-day detention nonsense, while in another some five inches south of it he says that the Tories only opposed the measure "for political gain". Taking a wildly unpopular line for opportunistic reasons is an abstruse notion by any standards. Otherwise, Gaunty, top hole.
In one of The Daily Mirror's familiar collations of its writers' memories – a device more to the taste of the accounts department, I suspect, than the readers – Fiona Phillips chips in her two penn'orth on The Apprentice-inspired question of the falsified CV. Fiona's lie was to The Daily Mirror itself, she revels. When asked if she thought she could write a column, she cited far more experience than she had. She mustn't beat herself up about this. After all, as she so cleverly worked out, she was being hired purely on writing ability, and nothing to do with the paper's desire for another breakfast television presenter to neutralise the powerhouse Saturday efforts of Lorraine Kelly in The Sun.
A transcendent joy, as ever, to catch a rare Alastair Campbell foray back into public life. Ali was wheeled on to Victoria Derbyshire's 5 Live phone-in the morning after the 42-day detention vote, and while confirmation that Gordon threw bribes at the DUP was not strictly required, Ali's denial supplied it all the same. "It's all about taking a long term strategy," he went on to say. "It's the big stuff that counts." Oh but it is, isn't it? The one thing it's not about is fixating on headlines and feeding rubbish to pliant hacks for short term political gain, and it was good to hear Ali reiterate the point.
Returning to Kelvin, you couldn't help but think of his little face during the majestic first instalment of Alexei Sayle's BBC2 three-parter on Liverpool (last one on Friday). There were many highlights, but perhaps the pick came when a newsagent's customers were offered free copies of The Sun and veered away like gazelles startled by the emergence of a crocodile from a watering hole. It would be sad if voters were asked whether they could trust the law and order opinions, however nuanced and sophisticated, of the man who summarily convicted Hillsborough victims on the flimsiest of hearsay. Kelvin himself can't remember whether to apologise or stick by his version of The Truth from one day to the next, of course, so touch wood he can recall a few of his own (and Mr Murdoch's) intriguing policy ideas in Haltemprice and Howden.
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