Matthew Norman on Monday: Farewell, Milibandroid the Elder, and come again soon

It will take more than International Rescue to steal the thunder of David Miliband


Did anything ever become Labour’s  great lost leader like the manner of his going? David Miliband is off to join International Rescue on Tracy Island, New York, to train as pilot of the banana-shaped amphibious landing craft Thunderbird 6, and yesterday’s valedictory interview with Andrew Marr cruelly reminded us what a grievous loss he is. Rigidly avoiding any sub-Blairite, neo-David Brentian drivel – “if you overcalculate,” he stated just the twice, “you miscalculate” – Milibandroid the Elder offered much to tantalise his army of fans. “Of course … we’re brothers,” said David when asked if the pain of losing to his sibling had healed. “Not you and me,” he helpfully added lest Andrew be confused. “Ed and me. There are the Murrays of this world and the Djokovics who come second, and you’ve got to be gracious when you don’t win.” As so often with this beacon of gracious defeat, what impressed most was his acute  self-awareness. Asked whether public sector workers who note him  earning more from one speech than they earn in a year might think him  self-interested, he said that what he wants is for “constituents to know …  I am fighting for them … that I am absolutely committed to making sure they come first”. How very true, and how thrilled the good voters of Sunderland North must be to find him expressing that absolute commitment by buggering off to the States.

The sum total of his wisdom

David offered so much to inspire, and you will indulge some more praise for his startlingly perceptive analysis of what to expect from the next election. While there may be another hung parliament, he advanced, neither a Labour nor Tory majority can be ruled out. Even this champion earning-machine couldn’t put a price on insight of that quality. Or on his warning that “there’s a bit too much mathematics going on with the polls”. When you think about it, a bit of geography, or even religious studies, might be better. God willing, he returns to us soon.

Robin Hood rides again

Heartening to note how quickly the world of sports broadcasting has learned the Inverdale lesson. Take David Gower on Sky’s Ashes channel, where his banter with professional wine bore Serena “Sir Ian” Botham nourishes the Wildean legacy.  “We think she may be Maid Marian,” observed David on Friday as the camera settled on a plumpish woman in fancy dress. “She’s let herself go a bit …” Always a delight.

All-star family newspaper

Meanwhile, Botham unwittingly gives rise to a new high point in prissy asterisk history. The Daily Mail sports diary reports on fellow commentator David Lloyd’s recollection, in a book, of Botham’s Adelaide car-park ruck during the last Ashes series with old foe Ian Chappell.  “As Beefy passes Chappell,” writes Lloyd, “the former Aussie captain mutters ‘****’. Botham doesn’t break stride but replies, ‘Oh **** ***, you ****’.” Apart from the rebuke to those who placed sledging among the lower comedic forms, it’s the triple asterisk word that pleases most. Who knew that “off” is liable to censorship?

The land where no one lives happily ever after

Elsewhere, the Mail conquers its disdain for the scare story with a fairy tale catchily headlined: “The wolf at the door: First killer beast turns up in Holland for 150 years sparking fears they may soon arrive in Britain.” Intriguing stuff, though precisely how wolves plan to cross the North Sea is a mystery the report ignores. But if you find yourself on a ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich, and hear a lupine-looking creature in a granny’s shawl and bonnet whisper “Come closer, little girl”, be sure to ring the Mail news desk at once.

Getting big business to cough up

I am distressed to find David Cameron besmirched by suspicion over the U-turn on plain cigarette wrapping. It is too easy, with hindsight, to blame him for hiring Lynton Crosby, who has links to the pro-cigarette lobby, as election supremo. If only there had been a recent precedent of a first-term PM getting into bother by reversing an anti-cigarette advertising policy, possibly after lobbying from an acrylic-haired midget and possibly not, to guide his path.

Barber brooks no dissent

The Sunday Times finds front-page space to relate that Brendan Barber received a pay-off of just over £100,000 when he left his post as TUC general secretary. As ever when one of his titles raises this vexing issue, we would remind the relevant newspaper that Rupert Murdoch waved off Rebekah Brooks with a meagre £10.8m.

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