Matthew Norman on Monday: Alastair Campbell is at his finest when judging Julian Assange

 

With Melanie Phillips taking a break from blogging, addicts of homespun sanity turn for their fix to Alastair Campbell's website. Our most revered dry-drunk psycho-narcissist, pictured, seldom disappoints, but it's hard to recall a finer offering than his musings on Julian Assange. What offends Ali is the WikiLeaks fugitive's hypocrisy in accepting sanctuary from an Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, with scant reverence for media freedom; "a President who sees a critical column not as part of the rough and tumble of political debate, but the inspiration for a libel suit which led to a journalist and newspaper directors being jailed and fined tens of millions of pounds".

Once again, Ali's ironic self-awareness guides him to make a sound point with laconic brilliance. Worse things than fines and jail sentences can happen, as he hints, when bullying governments misinterpret the rough and tumble as cause to pursue vendettas against their critics. Sometimes, innocents die in the woods. "Somewhere along the way, " Ali observes, "I think Mr Assange's moral compass has gone askew." If that rebuke doesn't propel him out of the embassy, whatever will?

Is Tony Tutu busy to check his facts?

With Alastair yet to deal with Desmond Tutu's suggestion that his erstwhile boss should pop along to The Hague, it falls to Mr Tony Blair himself to respond. Apart from dismissing the Archbish's claims that the WMD intelligence was doctored as an "old canard", Mr Tony's statement points out that Iraq's child mortality rate has been "cut by a third of what it was". What he forgoes to mention is that, before the invasion, possibly as many as half a million Iraqi children died because his sanctions stopped them getting the drugs they needed to live. No doubt he'll clarify this when he finds a moment, though he is of course an exceedingly busy man.

Reshuffle idea from a man who should know

Hasn't the reshuffle speculation been fun? I especially enjoyed the Mail on Sunday contribution from Brian Binley, a dangerous rival to Nadine Dorries and Peter Bone for the Most Cerebral Tory Backbencher title. Brian demanded George Osborne's replacement as Chancellor by Philip Hammond, the extremely right-wing Defence Secretary with the gift for defusing the rough and tumble of political debate by boring critics into a coma. On matters economic, Brian is to be respected. It was he who claimed expenses for a flat he rented from his own company, and then compared media interest in that curious arrangement to life under the Stasi. If Brian himself is overlooked in this shuffle, it can only be a matter of time.

Mitchell on Thatcher: too much information?

Meanwhile, Andrew Mitchell is tipped for a move from International Development. Although suspected by the right for his commitment to using relatively tiny sums to improve lives in the developing world, Andrew is quick to point out that in other regards he is sound.

"To me, she was a goddess," he said recently of Lady Thatcher. "When she walked down the corridors, I used to stand stiffly to attention ..." Too much detail, when even Alan Clark restricted himself to harmless admiration of the old girl's shapely ankles. Poor show.

A fitting role in London for Clint Eastwood

In the light of Clint Eastwood's tragi-comic turn with the empty chair, I offer this suggestion to any profit-minded theatrical impresario. When the current London run of The Sunshine Boys ends, recast Neil Simon's play about two raging, befuddled old geezers with Clint in the Walter Matthau role. The George Burns part, it hardly needs stating, belongs to Rupert Murdoch.

Do you feel lucky, shadow Chancellor?

It is to Eastwood's earlier oeuvre that Ed Miliband should turn if he wishes to improve a colleague's manners. Ed Balls's penchant for reading and writing phone messages while his leader is speaking demands something more pungent than Miliband's "People can be just as interesting as BlackBerrys". John Major was harder than that.

"Do you feel lucky?", preparatory to unloading the contents of a Magnum into Balls's face (the ice lolly, of course; we cannot condone the use of a .44 calibre handgun), would make everyone's day, week, month and year. If Little Ed then put the empty stick where logic and common decency insist it belongs, you could safely add lifetime to that calendrical roster.

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