Matthew Norman's Media Diary
A base slur on the blessed Shami
Monday 23 June 2008
Much like coppers and villains, there has never been that much to choose between hacks and politicians. They speak the same language, drink in the same bars, get up to the same mischief (or would if the old expenses culture persisted in newspapers), so it's no surprise that they sometimes switch between trades. Yet where disgraced ministers like David Blunkett take fortunes from their chums to write bad columns (we'll come to Rebekah Wade below), and while journalists are frequently tempted by politics (we'll come to Kelvin MacKenzie below), the embryonic career move embarked on last week by Andy Burnham is a novelty.
As well as possessing what's officially ranked (after Eric Joyce's) as New Labour's second brownest nose, Andy is an unnerving young chap whose long, apparently mascara-drenched eyelashes suggest a more feminine version of Worzel Gummidge's love object, Aunt Sally. But that needn't concern us now. What concerns us is Andy insinuating that anti-42 day detention allies David Davis and Shami Chakrabarti, with their "late night, hand-wringing, heart-melting" phone calls, are having an affair.
Doubtless this is me being pompous, but it's quite a thing when the minister overseeing newspaper standards deploys Wicked Whispers-style innuendo to smear political opponents. I hesitate to use the words "infantile twat" about one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State, but not for long. Regardless of how any libel action against him might pan out, Andy must know that if he offends our most adored Shami again, he can expect the sort of indefensible intrusion into every aspect of his life that is traditionally the domain of those Sunday red tops which seem more his natural workplace than the cabinet table.
As for Rebekah Wade, her singular talent for ingratiation continues to impress. It isn't everyone who can go from arriving at Elisabeth Murdoch's Christmas party on Tony Blair's arm in 2006 to attending Sarah Brown's Chequers "pyjama party" 18 months later. Rebekah has, and with all the wordless efficiency of Eurasia switching allegiance from Eastasia to Oceania. She's a schmoozer of genius, and only when she makes the inevitable move to running the public relations side of News International will she come into her own.
And so to Kelvin MacKenzie, whose by-election bid was so tragically aborted last week. The oldest playground bully in town claims it was nothing so trivial as The Sun recognising a huge misreading of the public mood (albeit the paper's tone towards David Davis softened dramatically). He says he chickened out after being overheard describing Hull as "an absolute shocker". I have long been worried about Kelvin's memory loss, possibly due to snoring-induced, early-onset Alzheimer's, but the failure to recall never having set foot in that city takes concerns to a new level. As Peter Wilby sagely observed in The Guardian last week, there are far too many general columnists such as myself who know nothing about anything, but writing off cities we've never visited sets a new mark. Best stick to recycling those hilarious gags about Heather Mills's stump, Kelvin, until the confidence returns.
Radio highlight of the week came, as so often, from Victoria Derbyshire. "Sorry, this is a daft question," she began an interview on Thursday's Radio 5 Live phone-in about the break-outs from Campsfield House detention centre in Oxfordshire, "but you're not supposed to escape from this kind of place?" What, from a detention centre? Daft question? Not a bit of it.
By way of one of those startling changes of pace that keep her Daily Mail column so fresh, Melanie Phillips gets herself into the most frightful strop. This time it's classified documents left on trains, although she concludes that the files were not mislaid on purpose. "Such suggestions surely belong," she soberly observes, "to the realm of spy fiction." I know it's not always easy, but sub-editors really must reach the end of her copy before writing the headline. "One lost top secret file is embarrassing," ran this pleasingly elliptical effort. "But two in a week? I fear something more sinister's going on." You simply have to show Mad Mel's work more respect than that.
A fond farewell to Dr Raj Persaud, who won't be having much luck now as a media tart even if his career practising psychiatry survives. The Mail's coverage of his downfall was quick to mention that he used to appear on Richard & Judy, and if the tone was faintly sneering you can't blame it for that. What kind of self-respecting media outlet wouldn't see through such a transparent charlatan? "50 copies of Staying Sane by Dr Raj Persaud to be won," enticed a Daily Mail offer in 2001. "Win a copy of Dr Raj Persaud's latest book," ran another two years later. Still, at least the Mail had cut back to 10 copies of the good doctor's (and God alone knows who else's) From The Edge Of The Couch. They saw the writing on the wall.
Staying with mental health practitioners – finally, good luck to Ruby Wax as she trains to become a psychotherapist. Ruby isn't the first high-profile media figure to make a more palatable career switch than Andy Burnham's, of course. Michael Green, possibly seeking redemption for doing so much to destroy commercial television as chairman of Carlton TV, has made the same move. There is no word yet on how Greeny's getting on, but the last time we bumped into him, in a London restaurant on New Year's Day, he seemed very chipper, so fingers crossed.
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