Matthew Norman on Monday: Why must the Johnson family cloak themselves in obscurity?

Plus: Does anyone have a clue what IDS is on about? And Jonathan Aitken invites us to join him for a fantasy glass of champagne in Paris...or would that be Switzerland?


If one area of national life leaves you feeling perpetually starved of information, it is the life and times of the Family Johnson. While one of course admires the clan’s efforts to cloak itself in obscurity, many of us become anxious and morose when hours slip by with barely a word on their endeavours, and the deficit was plain yesterday when the Mail on Sunday restricted itself to three pages of Johnsonabilia. For a tantalising moment the paper seemed poised to give the family due prominence. But the front-page headline “Big Brother To Switch Off Your Fridge” in fact concerned something other than a Boris plan  to punish Jo for the No 10 job by targeting a guerrilla campaign at his younger sibling’s white electricals. Admittedly, paterfamilias Stanley supplied two pages of sub-Woosterish wittering, but sister Rachel avoided referring to any sibling in her column. These starvation rations cannot continue, and I urge a theatrical impresario to commission The Johnsons Musical for the West End stage. Early casting ideas include Philip Seymour Hoffman as Boris, Benedict Cumberbach as Jo, Hermione Norris as Rachel, and Stephen Fry as Stanley. The suggestion for the show-stopper is a number, tonally modelled on the  breast-beating chorus in Aeschylus’ irreverent comic romp The Trojan Women, entitled “In The Name of Mercy, Leave Us Johnsons In Peace...”

Thanks for  sharing, Iain

Iain Duncan Smith deploys his towering intellect to isolate what was so moving about the Thatcher funeral. “I watched them brilliantly lower the coffin on to their arms,” says the former Guardsman of the soldiers bearing the casket, “and move it on to the podium. You could see it was a real strain on them... I thought to myself – that really was it, the simplicity of how she reached out to ordinary people in their daily lives, and gave them some kind of hope.” Me neither, but if anyone does have a clue what he was trying to say, IDS would love to hear from you at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Further brilliance from the DWP

Rejoice, rejoice, meanwhile, for  Mr Duncan Smith has had yet another wizard wheeze. Rather than save £2bn a year by ending the winter heating allowance and other freebies for comfortably-off pensioners, he invites them to return the money to the Treasury if they choose. This is even more brilliant than military coffin-lowering technique  –  so brilliant that he will want to extend this principle of the voluntary benefits opt-out to the disabled, from whom a more measly annual saving of some £750m is being clawed back.

The Paris Ritz, Jonathan? Really?

Leaping aboard the latest literary bandwagon is Jonathan Aitken, who will publish Margaret Thatcher: Power And Personality (Shawshank Press) in the autumn. By way of an early plug, the old con starred in an entertaining Daily Mail questionnaire, mentioning that his fantasy perfect-day  would include a glass of Dom Perignon at the Paris Ritz. This, you may recall, was the hotel at the centre of his downfall. If for some reason Jonathan cannot get an imaginary flight from Sydney to Charles de Gaulle, Jonathan could fly to Switzerland instead, and later claim under oath to have been at the Ritz all along. Who would ever find out?

Strong words from Soubry

Tory attempts to lower council-election expectations (“if we don’t lose control of the Punjab, it will be an endorsement of David Cameron’s leadership”) in full swing. But any Conservatives tempted to resume the plotting  after Thursday should pay heed to Anna Soubry. The plain speaking public health minister talks of the urgent need to “stop people in the party engaging in quite a lot of twattery”. Well said, and disloyal Tories are reminded of the political saw, as coined by Anna’s role model Stanley Baldwin during the Abdication crisis, that twattery will get you nowhere.

Blair’s not forgotten his old friends

Tony Blair’s post-Iraq rehabilitation gathers pace with a photo of him shaking Dick Cheney’s hand at the opening of The George W Bush Ladybird Presidential Library in Texas. Mr T’s latest coffee-table book, Me And My Besties, featuring glossy colour-prints of him with Berlusconi, Gadaffi, Assad, Mubarak, Murdoch, Cheney and other fellow philanthropists, is scheduled for the lucrative Christmas market at £500. He has promised Bush’s library a personalised copy, we gather, but even his charity has its limits – Dubya will be expected to provide the crayons himself.

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