Crossing Timmy Mallett

Jungle warning - the 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here' participant shouldn't be crossed if my exp

It's often said that we journalists are a despicable breed. After all we murdered poor Diana. We lie at the drop of a hat and we'd sell our grandmothers to the highest bidder.

Of course it occurs to no-one that you don't go into this racket if money floats your boat. No. It's a better story if the public think we hacks are all sweaty, greedy and evil.

And it's true I've not always behaved ethically.

For example, when I was at the BBC I disgracefully tried to balance coverage of the illegal and immoral Iraq war by interviewing people who were opposed to it. I suppose that makes me a communist.

I only hope that's offset by the obsequious treatment Lexus David Cameron gets from political editor Nick Robinson.

The other occasion I erred I'm afraid I trod all over Timmy Mallett's moral compass.

A highpoint in the loveable entertainer's career was his afternoon show at BBC Three Counties Radio where he was lucky enough to be produced by my wife.

On one occasion we went out for a drink in Luton after they'd come off air and he told a very moderately amusing anecdote about fellow children's presenter Michaela Strachan. His very good friend.

It was about Strachan's reaction to a staged kidnap attempt while she was doing a hostile environment training course ahead of filming in some remote troublespot.

Apparently she screamed or fainted or got the giggles. Can't remember which.

Mysteriously this tale appeared in a Daily Telegraph diary column quoting what the Mallett had said.

And my god the wrath. No sooner had I got home that evening than the phone started ringing.

"Timmy's very angry," came a voice down the line when I answered. "Timmy's very angry."

"Oh really Timmy? Why's that," I replied, weakly leaning against the wall.

"Guess what happened to me today," went on the pint-sized funster. "I went to see my parents - my old pensioner parents - and they showed me a copy of the Daily Telegraph. What the hell's wrong with you, selling a story you'd heard sitting in a pub...

"That's a disgusting profession you're joining. Really despicable. Now I'm going to have to ring up my friend Michaela and apologise. Timmy's very, very angry."

And I have to say I did feel a bit bad about upsetting him. I'm not sure the diary story did Strachan any harm - actually it gave them both some of the publicity they so clearly crave.

But I do worry that I provided a bit of the oxygen that kept his national profile high enough to see him pop up in the outback on this year's 'I'm a celebrity'.

The gnomic pot of insufferable jollity is once again on network TV and for that I apologise to you all.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition