Diary: Never rubbish your employer

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The Independent Online
IN THE SAME way that Andrew Neil would seldom allow an anti-Rupert Murdoch story to find its way into the Sunday Times, nor would he, I imagine, permit anything too derogatory to be written about Dame Shirley Porter, chairman of the London radio station LBC, which also employs him as a presenter.

Earlier this month, he sanctioned a mainly effusive article about Dame Shirley, which referred in brief to her campaign for a cleaner London while leader of Westminster City Council. In the article, Lesley White wrote, 'it was rubbish that galvanised her sense of civic duty'. Reporting that the Porters had found the streets paved with rubbish when they moved to the West End, she quoted Dame Shirley, who said: 'I put litter, cleansing, the quality of life, at the top of the agenda. I am more practical than ideological.'

I don't want to disparage Mr Neil, for whom I worked relatively happily for a few years, but I do chuckle at the memories of a campaign he ran against Dame Shirley in 1989, which I'm sure he would now best like forgotten.

In a leader of 3 September, crusading against the 'hellholes of flowing litter and institutionalised filth in some of the country's most popular tourist spots', he went to say: 'The lady of this mucky manor has come up with a 'clean' way of dealing with this unfortunate mess: public relations. The fact that the public relations budget has increased by 400 per cent over the period in which the budget for street clearing has risen a soaraway 20 per cent should guarantee the sweetest and most up-to-date explanations for things not done.' He signed off thus: 'We do not want the buck passed. We do not want high-gloss inertia. We want action. Over to you, Milady Muck.'

A WOMAN accused by the Yorkshire Evening Press of having swum in the Olympics has won an apology. I think I would have kept quiet, myself. The whole county now knows Barbara Pettitt swam only for the York City Baths Club.


Unimpressed after watching videos of his recent speeches, John Major, we are told, is to change his style. Away with the autocue and in with the notes written in the back of the car on the way to the meeting. So far, so good. However, a study of Churchill's speeches on a subject close to Major's heart - Europe - is, I suggest, not something you should undertake if you're feeling at all sceptical about the Prime Minister's ability to improve his oratory.

For example, here is Churchill dispelling a sense of defeatism in 1951. Attlee, the prime minister, was in hospital; three cabinet ministers had resigned; and Britain had lost face abroad over the Korean war. 'Nevertheless . . . we are the same people, in the same islands, as we were in the great days we can all remember,' he told his audience at the Royal Albert Hall.

It was not just the retrospection that worked for Churchill; it was the use of imagery and metaphor. When Major looked back on his speech last April about English cricket fields and beer, it failed to strike a chord, not just because he was out of tune with how people see England today, but because the words didn't inspire. 'Digging straight ditches and putting layers of bricks into them - what builders call a foundation,' is, I fear, not what we need as a nation in our hour of need.

Churchill rarely had this language problem, of course, so when he said in 1946, 'I wish to speak to you today about the tragedy of Europe', he was able to make the speech upbeat, despite its content.

I don't want to depress you any more, but here is the nearest I can find to an equivalent opening by Major. Addressing the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bonn in 1991, he said: 'Let me begin with a confession. My age. I am 47.'

KEN CAMERON, general secretary of the Fire Brigades' Union, showed some professionalism yesterday when he continued speaking to camera after his interviewer disappeared from sight after becoming entangled in a cable. It reminds me of the Italian journalist who queued for hours outside the Vatican for a papal walkabout. When the Pope reached him, he asked a question, only to find the camera crew, devout Catholics all, had failed to get the answer on tape. They were all on their knees.


1 July 1792 The Hon John Byng visits the castle at Tong: 'This place has been rebuilt in a most overgrown taste and would require a very large fortune to keep up. How people can build these pompous edifices without a sufficiency of surrounding estate is wonderful] And yet how commonly it is done. Vanity easily triumphs over reason. Every part is covered by pictures - from Christie's and other auctions, of dying saints, naked Venuses and drunken bacchanals. Now why all this offensive show, disgusting to every English eye that has not been hardened by Italy? Surely the intention of painting was to cheer the mind and restore your pleasures, to survey your ancestry with conscious esteem, to view the beauties of Nature, to restore the memory of famous horses and of faithful dogs. But why produce savage and indecent exhibitions before your children's eyes? Why are we to be encouraged by Satyrs to peep at sleeping naked beauty?'