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Who knows better about social mobility?


Alan Milburn

Alan Milburn

Alan Milburn

The Government's hiring of Alan Milburn as its "social mobility tsar" provides the most seismic event of its kind for a very long time ... possibly as long ago as the appointment of puritan £5m birthday-party man Philip Green as our anti-profligate spending tsar.

Promoted to the Cabinet in the misapprehension that he is the grandson of Jackie Milburn, whom Mr Tony Blair saw at St James's Park while a foetus, Wor Alan is an inspired choice.

Although there was no more vigorous defender of the New Labour policies that produced the most dramatic reversal of social mobility for decades, his own life beautifully illuminates the escape route from childhood poverty. Become a Trot, jettison everything you once professed to believe when it becomes expedient, ingratiate yourself with power, fight for policies such as university top-up fees that might have prevented the young Alan escaping his own working-class roots, and flounce out of government to make some dough when the going gets sticky. Do all this, and you too might one day pick up an annual £30,000 for spending a few days as "an adviser" to private healthcare firms and the global warrior for social justice that is Pepsi-Cola.

* If there's one facile criticism of newspapers that drives me mad, it's the one about online message boards being a repository for the embittered, deranged and not so bright. Take this, posted last week on the Daily Mail site beneath a report about an academic's musings on the eventual need for the human race to colonise space. "I believe next to nobody would listen to Stephen Hawking if he wasn't crippled in a wheelchair," wrote CBD from Melbourne. "I'm not saying he doesn't have the right to his views, but if he was another astrophysicist who talked and walked around the same as the rest of us do, his views wouldn't get listened to nearly as much ..." Now who could argue with that?

* Not everyone is as thrilled as Alan Milburn by his new appointment, alas, and as ever when a former colleague is called to service by the coalition, John Prescott denounces him as a "collaborator". Once again, the mouth of the Humber makes a mistake. The term that Baron Prescott of Croquet-Mallet in the County of Hyprocrishire was seeking but failed to find is "class traitor". If it hasn't come to him soon, perhaps one of his new pals on the red benches might help him out.

* Returning to Sir Philip Green, it was good to hear him tell the Today programme that the Monaco residency of his wife, nominal owner of Arcadia, in no way makes her a tax exile. Once Greeny has the cost-slashing under control – his first moves will be to cancel the booking of Beyoncé for the Dept of Work and Pensions Christmas party, I gather – no doubt he'll find a moment to explain any semantical distinction.

* As that interview ended, meanwhile, a presenter emitted what was either a mirthful snort or a cough. I suspect it was Jim Naughtie chuckling over his script for the one-man show – a few ballads, some whimsical stand-up about his 2005 reference to the Labour party as "we", a finale involving the Dagenham Girl Pipers and Bernie Clifton's ostrich – he is taking to Colchester's Mercury theatre on Friday evening. If the show is a hit, Jim could take it to Vegas, where he is regarded as the ideal warm-up act for Celine Dion at Caesar's Palace.

* The campaign to reopen Dr David Kelly's inquest has its most significant boost so far, thanks to a David Aaronovitch Times column headlined "There is no mystery over David Kelly's death". In the light of this contribution from the man who said he'd never trust a word any politician said again if no WMD were discovered in Iraq, the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, is expected to announce a fresh inquest within the week.

Belfast Telegraph