He is one of Britain's most talented political satirists, well-known for parodying the inner workings of New Labour. But Armando Iannucci, creator and writer of The Thick of It, was accused of hypocrisy yesterday by Tony Blair's former spin-doctor over his decision to accept an OBE.
The comedian who wrote the potty-mouthed political mouthpiece Malcolm Tucker was targeted by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's No 10 spokesman, on the social networking site Twitter yesterday, for joining the "establishment he claims to deride". In a reference to his believed fictional alias, Mr Campbell added: "Malcolm Tucker and I do not approve of honours system."
But Iannucci was quick to respond, tweeting: "It's probably more establishment to order your army to march into other countries for no reason. Swings and roundabouts," an implied reference to Mr Campbell's role in the Iraq war.
Mr Campbell retorted: "You see, your wit a bit tired and blunt already. Three little letters can have more impact than you realise. Tut tut." But it seemed the comic talent won the debate when he swiftly rebuked: "WMD" – weapons of mass destruction – the alleged, and now discredited, reason for going to war in Iraq.
While Iannucci left the conversation, Mr Campbell continued to tweet him publicly. In one message, he adopted the voice of the fictional Tucker to tweet: "OBE 'F-ing make him what he is by taking on public school establishment w---ers & he f-ing joins em' Jeez-o."
The spat prompted an online debate whether satirists or journalists should accept honours. Mr Campbell, who turned down a peerage from Gordon Brown three years ago, tweeted that he had rebuffed the offer twice.
The BBC broadcaster Andrew Neil waded into the row, asking Mr Campbell and Iannucci why "somebody who constantly parades their anti-establishment credentials accept[s] such a bauble?" He made his views clear, when he added: "Journalists should never accept honours from people we are supposed to be holding to account!!!"
When Mr Campbell suggested that Mr Neil would "not take an honour", the former editor of The Sunday Times responded: "You are more right than you know," suggesting he had been offered, but refused, such an award.
Other satirists and commentators who have snubbed the honours system are the comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, author Aldous Huxley and writer and journalist Evelyn Waugh. The poet Benjamin Zephaniah refused an award, as did the novelist Graham Greene, Roald Dahl and artist David Hockney, singer David Bowie and Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave. The artist L S Lowry holds the most records for the numbers of honours declined.
Iannucci assured people his OBE for services to broadcasting would not stop him ridiculing politicians. "I just hope it's not an attempt by the Government to stop me because that's not going to happen."