Andy McSmith's Diary: 'An unelectable egotist': who could you mean, Jeremy?

And what on earth makes Paxman think someone like Churchill could not be elected now?

Click to follow
Indy Politics

We are days away from the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death and the tributes are pouring in. In the past week, he has been called “the greatest Briton” (by the Los Angeles Times) a “giant of history,”(Le Figaro) and “the most prime ministerial of prime ministers” (The Business Times, Singapore).

Jeremy Paxman is more ambiguous. “Any rounded assessment of Winston Churchill’s life has to acknowledge that he was a ruthless egotist, a chancer, and a charlatan at times. Would he be electable now? I fear not.”

Writing in the Radio Times, he added that Churchill would “be suffocated by the spinning and posturing that pass for politics today”.

That is a strange conclusion to reach. In politics, “substance” and “spin” do not have to be mutually exclusive: Churchill was steeped in both. He was the master of the sound bite, the spinner who stamped an image of himself on the consciousness of a generation.

And what on earth makes Paxman think someone like Churchill could not be elected now? This is the man whose final appearance on Newsnight included film of him riding a tandem with the Mayor of London. How can a man that has ridden a bicycle made for two with Boris Johnson think that “a ruthless egotist, a chancer and a charlatan” cannot be “electable”?

Ils ne sont pas Charlie

There was a meeting last night of the London branch of the National Union of Journalists, run by a member of the Socialist Worker Party, called to condemn the union’s general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, and other “well-meaning journalists” who marched through Paris to remember those who died in the Charlie Hebdo attacks. It was proposed that the branch should post a notice on its website declaring that “we find the ‘celebration’ of this racist and Islamophobic ‘satire’ distasteful at best, and dangerous and harmful at worst”.

Distasteful, dangerous and harmful: such accusations from the mouths of those who hold the victims to blame for being murdered.

Keeping bad counsel

Lord Smith of Leigh is having a spot of bother on Wigan Council, of which he is leader. There is an independent councillor named Robert Brierley, who has been causing trouble for the ruling Labour group for years. During last week’s council meeting in Leigh, things got so out of hand that the awkward councillor was ordered to leave the meeting, and when he refused, the police were called. Meanwhile, also sitting quietly at the same meeting was another character with a similar name, Robert Bleakley, who surely qualifies as the worst councillor in Britain. He is repaying the £2,400 phone bill he ran up on sex-chat lines on his council-funded phone.

His silent presence at the meeting – the first he has sat through in five months – ensured that he circumvented the rule under which councillors who fail to turn up to any meetings for six months are automatically disqualified. That entitles him to an £11,000 allowance. Lord Smith has calculated that taking into account all the time Bleakley has spent in council meetings, he is being paid an eye-watering £2,000 an hour.