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The scandal of friendship and the shame of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Posted on 7 November 2009 | 10:11am

Is there no end to the cruelty of the Daily Telegraph in its coverage of MPs’ expenses?

My God, they have only gone and published a detailed account of my exit from a celebrity (sic) edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Just when Fiona and I were finally getting over it. 

Why in the Telegraph today, you ask? It happened years ago. Surely anyone with a vague interest in seeing me fail saw or read about it at the time, or might have caught the occasional repeats people delight in telling me have been on since. 

Ah, but the big revelation is that the friend I phoned when we were struggling with an £8000 question was none other than Sir Ian Kennedy, the new chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. 

What, you mean this man has ‘friends?’ Gosh. But how can a man who has friends who once worked for Tony Blair possibly do a job properly? I know, I know, amazing isn’t it? ‘Certain to raise questions’ (innuendo handbook cliche number 14) about his independence, I’d say (if I worked for the Telegraph, that is.).

‘It can also be disclosed’ (IHCN9) that Sir Ian had dinner as a guest of TB at Chequers. What? The man who had successfully led the review into Britain’s rabies laws (yes, you dog-lovers have him to thank for being able to take your pets to France) and who chaired the Bristol babies inquiry was thought worthy of an invite to Chequers? Scandal. It is ‘bound to raise suspicions’ that Blair must have known there would be an expenses scandal one day, there would be a new regulatory body born of it, and he’d better get this Kennedy chap onside in case he lands the job. Banged to rights. 

The paper says David Cameron and Nick Clegg ‘will almost certainly (ICHN 4) not have been aware of Sir Ian’s links to the New Labour establishment when welcoming his appointment.’ 

Yet they then somewhat undermine that possibility by publishing in copious detail  the references to Sir Ian in my diaries, when on holiday he gave invaluable advice in advance of the Hutton Inquiry. I cannot speak for Clegg but I have considerable evidence that Mr Cameron and his team are very familiar with my diaries. 

I can also ‘disclose’ that the first I knew Sir Ian was taking up this new post was when he had already been appointed, since when I have discovered he informed the panel which appointed him both of his friendships in politics and of his appearance in my diaries. So any questions it was ‘bound to raise’ with them had clearly already been raised and dealt with. 

He is indeed a friend, one who knows his own mind and will do any job asked of him well. (The words I gave to the Telegraph when they contacted me about their big scoop, but which appear not to have been included in their online coverage).  

Nor did my comment that I was ‘disappointed’ he did not know the answer when I phoned him from the Who Wants to be a Millionaire studio. 

It was a Valentine’s Day couples special. Neither Fiona or I were terribly keen to do it in the first place. But the chance of a million for Leukaemia Research was too good to miss. But be fair, how is this an 8000 quid question. ‘Which country launched the Skylab space station? France, Russia, Britain or America?’ Got to be worth half a million. 

I can remember saying as the question popped up ‘it won’t be France because they would call it something French’. However, when we went to 50-50 and America and France were the two remaining, that thought had moved on, Ian was unsure, so were we, but as the US had the Apollo programme, we plumped for France. I could tell from the immediate Chris Tarrant smirk that we’d had it. 

So thanks to the cruelty squad at the Telegraph for bringing all that back. Thanks, more sincerely, for such generous plugging of The Blair Years. 

And well done to Ian Kennedy in continuing to want to contribute to public service, knowing that those who put their heads above the parapet might have potshots fired at them  from time to time.

  • Political Dissuasion

    Mr Campbell,

    Having read The Blair Years and what you felt/feel about the press, are you really surprised they are trying to make this a story? Ashamed of them, sure, but you cannot be harbouring any thoughts of ‘surely the British press are too upstanding…’.

    PD

  • Artemisia

    The absurdity of it is too much for words. Suffice it to say that these days, “The Telegraph” is considered the poor cousin of Private Eye elsewhere in Europe.

  • Paul McArdle

    True legend, Mr C, is the ability to so be under the skin of the Tory press that you can make front page news with a quiz question four years after the event. You should feel honoured indeed.

  • Malcolm Harper

    We really do now have the most absured papers in the world. I worry that on Europe, where there is next to no sensible debate at all, it haslead Britain to take the wrong turn and we will regret it

  • Christine Burden

    Is the Daily Telegraph
    A. A Tory rag. B. A Conservative rag. C. A Cameroon rag. or D. A lemon?

  • Judith Haire

    None of the above. It’s fish and chip paper.
    When is anyone going to realise that negativity and sniping is just so passe. Mindless regurgitation from the DT does not impress me one iota.

  • James

    How did you manage to balls up the answer to that?! Honestly…

  • vstrad

    Dear Alastair,
    I don’t think anyone has suggested you were involved in Sir Ian’s appointment, rather that his friendship with you (amongst other things) cast doubt on his independence. After all, your own account of your Italian holiday labels him as one of the “party people” you were mixing with.
    I’m sure he did a great and impartial job on the Bristol babies and rabies inquiries. But his involvement in helping you prepare for your appearance before Hutton and in the selection of the Government’s counsel does indeed “raise questions” over his independence.
    No doubt Sir Ian is entirely blameless and would do a terrific job at the IPSA. But this is politics, it’s a dirty game etc, etc. You of all people must appreciate that it must look clean and smell clean – being clean is not enough.

  • Alan Quinn

    Skylab French? Did you never collect the cards in PG Tips tea? Do you not remember the big scare stories when Skylab was due to re enter the Earth’s atmosphere and land on everyone? Bloody hell AC!

  • George Woodhouse

    Very funny Alasdair – you complaining about he press has to be a joke. After your shameless manipulation of the facts and the way it was presented to the press during the Blair years – hilarious!

  • Geoff Cole

    As a Labour member and contributor for over 25 years, I am devastated that people who are ignorant of basic facts about natonal capabilities have the audacity to describe themselves as ‘strategists’. When will Britain wake up to the fact that we need the ruling ‘arts establishment’ less than a dog needs fleas? A ‘strategist’ who thought that France could launch Skylab presumably using Arianne (based on the UK’s Blue Streak} demonstrates ignorance that clearly demonstrates the British problem. How can any government govern adequately when they lack basic scientific education and have the arrogance to ignore the opinions {based on proof rather than expediency) of those who have?
    This is not a party political problem since none of the major parties have sufficient individual members of parliament or prospective candidates with the education or ability to govern. The mass opinion of those spoon fed ‘facts’ based on opion formers whose job is to sell newspapers is hardly a wise basis upon which to form policy. Most journalists are ‘educated’ in the arts, law, philosophy and other splendid things that have little relationship to the real world.

  • Jane A

    Worrying that “had dinner with” has now become “holidayed with” in the Torygraph lexicon of guilt-worthy summer activity.

    If they are going to be that sloppy with the detail, why believe a word anyway.

  • Anonymous

    The reason that it is doubly embarrassing for you is that your partner is wittering on on educashun when the pair of you could not even answer the simplest questions on Millionaire. Skylab a UK project! FFS man! The simple point is that both you and Fiona are actually thick.