Watching brief - Amanda Platell has sisterly advice for Tessa Jowell

Tessa Jowell shouldn't take back what she said about Campbell's macho style: the only thing voters h

Alice Thomson's interview with Tessa Jowell in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday 7 February was a must-read. Like many experienced politicians before her, the Minister for Culture thought she could handle that nice Alice. As she has done with many before Jowell, that nice Alice set a trap, and a cocky cabinet minister walked straight into it.

"Bullying Campbell branded a Labour liability", ran the splash headline after Jowell accused advisers and ministers of indulging in "testosterone-charged" politics, which turned off voters. The supine Jowell retracted the story the following day, saying she referred only to "officials and ministers", and never meant her mate Campbell. "My constituents hated watching ministers and officials berating everyone else and taking no blame for anything," she said to Alice. Which rather begs the question, as she keeps telling us the government did nothing wrong. Why should they take any blame?

Jowell said that she "wouldn't talk about Alastair like that. Alastair is a friend of mine." Yes, rather like Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke, eh love?

A sisterly word, Tessa - the only thing that the voters hate more than testosterone-charged politicians is oestrogen-challenged ones.

Also in Saturday's Daily Telegraph was a column in which the Bitchiest Link outdid herself. It was a vicious attack on her fellow author, the TV scriptwriter Lynda La Plante. Anne Robinson claimed that La Plante had been shaving not her armpits, but years off her age. Evidently La Plante was not, as she claimed, 57, but "cruising nicely towards 62". La Plante has just adopted a baby. So instead of making the argument against the suitability of such an adoption at an advanced age (as many did, myself included), Robinson suggested La Plante was lying about her age.

Whether la Robinson is correct or not, La Plante can console herself with the thought that, however old she is, she will at least be sober enough to see her child grow up.

As politicians are fond of saying, you don't improve the worst by destroying the best. But it appears this is just what is in danger of happening to the Today programme post Hutton. I have lived in this country for 18 years, and woken to Today most days, but never had I heard the kind of "clarification" made at the end of the programme the day after John Humphrys interviewed the Defence Minister, Geoff Hoon. The interview was magnificent - meticulous, restrained, persevering, intelligent. What followed the next day - a two-minute statement from Hoon - left listeners to the programme, including myself, wondering if it was an apology, a correction, or if someone at the BBC had just lost the plot.

These are dangerous days, not just for Today but for the BBC in general. Some journalists are suffering the early signs of timidity - hardly a quality to be encouraged in an organisation committed to the truth. But this is what happens when people feel they're in the trenches, fighting what they see as an unjust war: everyone gets paranoid and people die unnecessarily.

Mark Byford said on Radio 4's Feedback, and repeated on the much more high-profile Breakfast With Frost, that the BBC's job is to report the facts not break the news, and that it should not compete with newspapers to break "exclusives". It was like telling Nigella Lawson she could write the recipes but not bake the cakes, and that all licking of spoons was out.

I leave the last word to John Humphrys in his Sunday Times column. "Even the best of journalists must sometimes be free to be wrong." Well said, Mr Humphrys.

Headline of the week came in the Sunday Telegraph atop a picture of Iain Duncan Smith at the opening night of his lecture tour at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall - capacity crowd 1,500, attendance 67. "It's Saturday night. You've got 1,000 things to do. By the end of the evening you may think this wasn't one of them."

No, not a wry comment from the reviewer, Adam Lusher, but from the mouth of the former Tory leader himself.

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