Diary: Mad Mel needs to start minding her language

Matthew Norman on Monday

Nothing distresses this column like a friend in psychic pain, so we must begin by applying a dollop of balm to Melanie Phillips' anguished soul. In a capitulation to hysteria all the more shocking for its rarity, Mad Mel reacts to her guest appearances in Anders Breivik's "manifesto" by accusing "the left" of greeting the Oslo killings with "demented joy".

What with the Test matches and the US deficit drama, I missed the Young Fabians' street party in celebration of the slaughter of like-minded Norwegians. In claiming victimhood for someone else's tragedy, Mad Mel's template is Sarah Palin's self-pitying cri de coeur when her "Don't retreat, reload!" was cited after Gabrielle Giffords' shooting.

On her blog we find MM in palindrone mode by identifying herself as the martyr. When she writes about "distortion, irrationality, hatred and sheer blood-lust", she refers not to the killer, but to those concerned that her language might inflame the more outré realms of her readership. "So those of us who fight for life, liberty and Western civilisation against their enemies," she goes on, "found ourselves grotesquely damned as accessories to mass murder..." No one sane suggests anything more, MM, than this: words are powerful things and need restraint when impressionable minds might misread such sensitively timed phrases as "fight for life" as a call to arms against the coming caliphate.

* By way of a busman's holiday, Sir John Chilcot is off to the Hampstead Theatre tomorrow to see Sarah Helm's Loyalty.

His Iraq war inquiry will not be kind to Mr Tony Blair, according to reports yesterday. But it might be unkinder after he has seen the play, in which Laura – the character based on herself by Ms Helm, the partner of Mr T's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell – listens in while her husband monitors phone chats between the prime minister and such superiors as Mr Bush and Rupert Murdoch.

Out of respect for the Official Secrets Act, we'll put that down to artistic licence, and move on to the news that Sir John has asked to meet the play's author. If he wishes to discuss where precisely Sarah drew the line between fact and fiction, you wonder if this might more properly be done in front of the full committee.



* Speaking of Mr Murdoch, let no one accuse him of taking as laissez faire an approach to British education as to such other areas of national life as the conduct of his newspapers. A spokesman for Michael Gove tells us he "isn't at all embarrassed" about all those breakfasts and dinners with Rupert, "most of which have been about education, which is his job".

The spokesman also claimed that most of the meetings were "of a personal nature". So take your pick there, safe in the knowledge that the one thing never mentioned was the BSkyB deal. Govey claims he hoped to persuade Rupert to sponsor an academy, and it may not be too late. There is talk of a site in Cheltenham, with GCHQ willing to second staff for the new Surveillance Studies A* exam.



* This wouldn't be the old boy's first sortie into the groves of academe. I must say it's refreshing to find Oxford University refusing to tell its alumnus where to stick the legs of his Chair in Language and Communication, though rumours that the name will be extended to Rupert Murdoch Professor of Obfuscatory Language and Intercepted Communications are discounted on letterhead space grounds. Meanwhile, the post of News International visiting professor of media will also survive. It feels like eons since Oxford denied Mrs Thatcher an honorary doctorate through moral distaste.

* In Washington, warring Republicans dip into the lexicon of myth, modern and ancient, to raise the tone. John McCain calls his more intransigent GOP colleagues "Tea Party hobbits". Tea Party pin-up Rand Paul raids the Simon & Garfunkel lyric sheet to respond: "I'd rather be a hobbit than a troll" (yes I would, if I only could, etc). This looks like the first serious crack in Tea Party unity, with "troll" a barely coded attack on Sarah Palin who once famously guarded a bridge (albeit to nowhere). Still, a relief to know that the global economy rests in such hands.

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