Express & Star

Toby Neal on politics: Upset Tories should realise lampooning those in power is an age-old tradition

What a joke. Politicians complaining about being the butt of jokes, that is.

Journalist and TV personality Derek Jameson at the Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury

Leading Tories have been accusing the BBC of bias, pointing in particular to the satirical Radio 4 show The News Quiz.

Oh, grow up.

Lampooning those in power is as old as the hills and if those in power can't take it, they are in the wrong profession.

Of course the Government gets it in the neck. That's because it's the Government.

Also once you've portrayed Sir Keir Starmer as dull and boring the joke has run its course with nowhere else to go.

There is something the aggrieved could do. They could sue. All the best with that. Defaming somebody as part of a joke is not a defence, but you tell the libel juries that.

Funnily enough, despite traditionally being leading critics of the libel laws some journalists are quite quick to sue.

Take poor Derek Jameson, who really should have known better.

Derek was a former Fleet Street editor who spoke with a Cockney accent and was dubbed "Sid Yobbo" by Private Eye, an unfair stereotype – he was actually an opera lover – which was perpetuated by the satirical BBC Week Ending radio show.

He had triumphantly overcome the hardships of a tough childhood, during which he had literally worn rags as a boy and went to a children's home, and perhaps that played a part in him taking special offence at a couple of barbs.

One was that he was "an East End boy made bad" and the other was that he "thought erudite was a kind of glue".

The matter went to the libel courts where the jury clearly thought people in public life should be able to take such teasing on the chin, as they judged that it was fair comment.

Afterwards Derek said he was the only person who had ever sued the BBC for libel and lost. He also lost a lot of money, but the BBC did later employ him and he became a popular radio fixture, successfully hosting the Radio 2 breakfast show.

Incidentally, as it happens Derek's son Peter was once of this parish.

For politicians to complain about being at the wrong end of this stuff is pretty rich, as they are the first to dish it out, while at the same time bleating platitudes about the need to raise the tone of public debate.

Hitler and the Nazis, genocidal mass killers, are apt to get trotted out.

In my Christmas edition of The New European, Alastair Campbell, who is a sort of politician, described Nigel Farage as a nicotine-stained man-frog, and in the current edition Trump gets a Hitler moustache.

Churchill partook in the sport. Here's one well-known and oft-quoted exchange from 1946.

Bessie Braddock MP: “Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk.”

Churchill: “Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”

And in the 1920s Labour's Sir Wilfred Paling called him a "dirty dog,” to which Churchill's riposte was: "The Hon. Member should realise what dirty dogs do to palings.”

Politicians today do have to endure the viciousness of morons on the internet, but when it comes to mainstream hauling over the coals they have it easier than previous generations, largely because of the decline in the power and influence of what used to be called Fleet Street and also, sadly, the local press.

This is not a good thing. Take away the scrutiny, criticism, and lampooning and, in the words of fictional factory worker Arthur Seaton, all the rest is propaganda.


At last I've discovered why January is such a dull month.

I've got one of those watches which gives sunset and sunrise times. It tells me that since the shortest day in December, we have gained around 45 minutes of daylight in the evenings, but only about 20 minutes of daylight in the mornings.

I've looked on the internet and there are explanations to do with the elliptical orbit of the Earth around the Sun, and also the Earth's tilt.

What it amounts to is that it's not subjective – those dark, dull, January mornings really do hang around.