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29 March 2010

Joanna Lumley becomes a problem for the government

Gurkha campaigner blasts ministers and the Mail for "smears".

By James Macintyre

Uh-oh. Joanna Lumley, the much-admired actress-turned-pro-Gurkha campaigner, has just held an unusually furious press conference with her associates in order to clear their names of what they regard as “smears”.

The defence minister Kevan Jones has wisely moved immediately to apologise “unreservedly” for having told MPs there had been a ”deathly silence” from Lumley since her successful campaign, alongside the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, to win settlement rights for the Gurkhas.

The statement from Team Lumley reads:

Recent personal attacks on Joanna and on the lawyers responsible for the legal victory, made in the press and by a minister under the protection of parliamentary privilege, have left the campaigners with no option but to respond through the press to set the record straight.

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The public who strongly supported the campaign deserve no less. She is speaking out to reassure the many hundreds of thousands of people who backed the Gurkha Justice Campaign.

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There were also robust words of attack for the Daily Mail, which the Lumley camp said it had regarded as onside until now. That paper, which relies on readership from the kinds of people who like Lumley, may be feeling mildly nervous today. But you can bet that, with weeks to go before a general election, Gordon Brown, who thought he had won Lumley over with tea at No 10, will be more worried still. Expect him to react soon.

The phrase that rang most true at the press conference was “government by Daily Mail“. Brown may have to decide now between appealing to Lumley, or appealing to the Mail. For his sake, he’d better make the right choice.

UPDATE: Lumley has just told Sky News that she does not feel let down by Brown, whom she describes as a “man of integrity who has kept his word”, and seems to be directing her attacks more at the media.

UPDATE: Lumley has just accepted Jones’s apology.