EDIT: Actually this is a bit unfair. Motion did write two poems in protest against the Iraq war, which can be found linked from the abobe Wikipedia page. I just thought his remarks were a bit daft – if he’d really wanted to go out there surely it could’ve been arranged…
Haven’t posted in a while and I have a few items of news saved up for when I next get a decent opportunity. For the moment though I couldn’t help but laugh at this report today about a leaked government document giving details of how Tony Blair plans to quit. Amongst other stunts Blair would “appear on programmes including Blue Peter and Songs of Praise“, which is silly enough, but best of all the document adds: “He needs to go with the crowds wanting more.” Surely the only way to do that would be with the aid of a Tardis? About 1998 should do it…
Columnists are falling over each other to declare themselves either for or against Cherie Blair following the news this week that she’s invoicing the Labour Party for her £275-a-day hairdressing bill incurred during last year’s election, which runs to some £8,000 – more than one Labour backbencher spent on his entire 2005 campaign.
“Once you’ve had a £275 hairdo, it’s pretty hard to go back to a £50 one,” protests the Grauniad’s Hannah Pool, who by pure coincidence is the paper’s fashion correspondent. Isn’t this humbuggery at its best? Fifty quid is probably as much as my mum, for instance, has ever spent (or been able to spend) on a hairdo and I doubt I’m the only one who can’t tell the difference between their mum’s locks and Cherie’s.
Meanwhile, in the same paper (or at least, on the same website) Helene Mulholland defends Cherie on the basis that she’s damned if she does get her hair done and damned if she doesn’t, the latter because of her notorious bad hair days, starting with the morning after Labour’s original 1997 landslide when she was filmed opening the door to Number 10 to accept a bunch of flowers from a well-wisher having obviously just got out of bed, complete with a barnet that could have been designed by Salvador Dali.
The reality is that she and her husband were so popular at that time – and, apparently, deservedly so – that everyone loved her for answering the door with surrealist hair. Not even the biggest cynic could have begrudged that to a woman whose life had just changed forever, who’d been up all night celebrating, who had every reason to celebrate, who had just at that moment discovered the reality that she was no longer an ordinary person but now in the constant media glare.
Modesty tends to endear you to people somewhat more than ostentation, and if Cherie had spent a little less money over the years that followed consulting lifestyle gurus and a bit more time on the things that matter, she might instead have found herself taken to the nation’s hearts. This would have enabled her to have a bad hair day every day, saving the Labour Party a fair sum.
The whole story is the perfect metaphor really for the massive affection for (and trust in) New Labour that the government has squandered over the past decade. They could have had it all – instead they screwed us.
Today’s Sunday Times has at least two columns about Cherie’s latest mammon-friendly stunt. India Knight joins the ranks of (apparently exclusively female, and no doubt immaculately-coiffeured) hacks who are kissing Cherie’s bum so fiercely that the Labour Party will soon be in receipt of another Cherie bill, this time for an industrial vat of sore-arse cream.
Rod Liddle however says it all for me: “Aside from betraying the people who raised the money, it’s also betraying the people that Labour purports to represent. I mean, it’s hardly a statement of solidarity with the downtrodden masses, is it. Spending more than six times the (daily) minimum wage on a quick wash ’n’ blow dry pretty much every day for a month might strike some of Labour’s working-class supporters, if there are any left, as a tad extravagant.
“The Labour party is also skint, on the verge of bankruptcy. Poor Peter Kilfoyle MP fulminated when he heard about Cherie’s bill that this was double what he had to spend on his entire election campaign.
“Then there’s the presumption and the double standards. Quite clearly Cherie Blair feels she has every right to expect the Labour party — or someone, anyway, so long as it’s not her — to pick up the hairdressing bill. She seems suffused with a resentment that her various costs are not more frequently borne by the members of her party, or better still the taxpayer.
“She has been known to whinge that she incurs expenses merely through being the prime minister’s wife when, as everybody knows, because we keep being told, she is a Very Real Woman in her own right with an important and intellectually demanding job.
“However, disaffection with life at No 10 is quickly banished when there’s the chance to trouser vast sums on foreign lecture circuits, billed as the wife of Tony Blair. I may be wrong but my guess is that the filthy-rich denizens of Palm Beach’s Everglades club would not have paid £30,000 to hear a speech from some leftie, limey human rights lawyer who had just co-authored a massive — and massively boring — book on tort. As visiting attractions go, it’s hardly Jackie Mason, is it. They forked out because they thought she was Britain’s first lady.”
I suppose I hardly need add to the column inches (or digital equivalent) laying into the US government’s pathetic response to the Katrina tragedy, but it surely can’t be said often enough that the way the refugees of Louisiana have been treated beggars belief. Yesterday George Bush denied the response was slow or that being black (the affected people, that is, not Bush of course) had anything to do with it. Like Tony Blair denying that the bombings in London on what we must now call 7/7 had anything to do with the war in Iraq, it makes you wonder how it is that the only people who believe the bullshit are the very people we trust to tell us the truth.
Anyway, I’ve been following the series of letters in the Guardian in recent days about the old blues songs about the Louisiana floods of 1927, which documented the same effects of the same sort of disaster on the same poor, black people of the same area. Correspondents have also highlighted Bob Dylan’s “uncanny prescience” in his 2001 song High Water. Although this song was inspired by the work and experiences of Charley Patton, one of the original bluesmen in question, the fact that Dylan had now been brought into the discussion prompted me to look up an old Aaron Neville album called Warm Your Heart (which I was just about to get rid of, oddly enough) which features a cover of Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927. In honesty I didn’t know who was US president at the time of the original floods until I read the lyrics and found there the reference to Coolidge. Doubting that an ultra-literate songwriter like Randy Newman would have got such a fact wrong, I nonetheless double-checked the reference in Wikipedia before sending the letter above. As my initial link to the Guardian letters of 12th September attests, the reference by the original correspondent to Hoover has now become a matter for the Guardian’s Corrections & Clarifications department. (I also didn’t know what “crackers land” meant, and therefore felt a bit uneasy quoting it, but it was taken from the official Randy Newman site, so should have been correct, and in fact the Guardian, when printing my letter, added an apostrophe – i.e. “crackers’ land” – indicating that “crackers” were the residents of the area in question.) Altogether therefore I feel a bit embarrassed about all this, but this whole story seems to prove that, with the internet as powerful as it is, we’re all experts now.
All of which brings me to the image of my letter at the top of this post. As part of its recent relaunch in “Berliner” format, The Guardian is offering its excellent digital edition of the paper free until 26th September. It’s really just a very trendy version of the website, as all Guardian stories can be read for free on the main site anyway (the standard text version of my letter is on this page for instance), but the digital edition allows you to click on a story and read a PDF or JPG version of the actual paper as printed, from which the above is a clipping. Like a great many things these days I think a digital Guardian is a bit of a luxury (if you’re going to ordinarily pay through the nose for such a service you might as well read the paper and be done with it) but it’s nice nonetheless.
The Berliner Guardian incidentally is very cool but the smaller size feels weird, as if something’s missing. When I went to buy the launch edition at the paper stands in WH Smith I couldn’t find it to begin with – I thought it must have sold out already, until finally it turned up looking a bit sorry for itself in a compartment designed for a normal-sized broadsheet. And it’s still too big not to fold in half when you’re carrying it or laying it down somewhere, but because of the dimensions it feels wrong being folded either horizontally or vertically… but I feel I’ve strayed from the point somewhat. To round off therefore and return to my original topic, here’s a link to a withering attack on the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling of the Katrina disaster, with a mention in it of Russell Hoban‘s Riddley Walker no less. As one of my Hoban friends commented when she saw this, “‘Riddley Walker’ and FEMA on common ground — this is eerie.” Or maybe just scary.
I don’t know about you, but I have a thing for checking the obituary pages of news websites on a daily basis, generally out of curiosity but also with a note of anxiety – it seems to be looking for trouble. While I will of course want to know immediately if someone important (or important to me) has died, I dread actually reading the words. As it happens, today I didn’t have to go to the obituaries for the sad news of two deaths, as they were headline news. The first is Robin Cook, one of the few modern Labour MPs (and MPs full stop) who could rightly claim to be a man of principle and integrity. I mean, Tony Blair uses every possible opportunity to persuade everyone that he has those qualities in abundance, but there’s a vast difference between doing that and actually having them. Blair, being a lawyer by profession, could defend the indefensible, including (seemingly endlessly) his own right to continue as prime minister, but Cook by contrast was the highly respected cabinet politician who took the rare step of actually resigning from the government over its insane determination to take the UK to war in Iraq. The Guardian/Observer website today publishes an extract from his amazing resignation speech, one of the very, very few truly memorable and moving Commons moments in recent memory.
The second sad “celebrity” death today was that of Ibrahim Ferrer, the great Buena Vista Social Club singer. Admittedly he was 78, but I still mourn the decline (with some Thunderbird wine) of that beautiful voice.
Now that Tony Blair has won a (not particularly unsurprising, but still annoying) third term, the Independent and others are picking him up on the fact that he did so with just 36% of the popular vote and with the support of only 22% of the electorate. The Independent’s campaign for democratic reform is a bit shutting-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted but there’s something to be said for it and who knows, maybe Tony might even listen (although I doubt it). The above link links to the Independent’s page of links on the topic, including an online form you can fill in to sign their petition.
According to today’s Observer, Labour are several points ahead of the Tories in the paper’s latest opinion poll. This article also reports that Peter Hain “launched a fierce attack on self-indulgent ‘dinner party critics’ among the liberal middle classes who are tempted to use the ballot box to punish Blair”. By doing so, he says, such voters “would only hurt the poorest, who were dependent on a Labour victory”. Blair has “got the message” about their displeasure, Hain insists, arguing that those who still disagreed over Iraq or civil liberties “should reopen the arguments after the election”. “There’s now a kind of dinner party critics [sic] who quaff shiraz or chardonnay and just sneeringly say, ‘You are no different from the Tories,'” Hain goes on. “Most of the people in this category are pretty comfortably off: it’s not going to be the end of the world if they get a Tory government. In a working-class constituency like mine, this is a lifeline. It’s not a luxury.”
Well, I have no doubt Peter Hain would love for Iraq and civil liberties to slip off the agenda until after the election. However, he might like to know that it is precisely because of these two issues that I will not be voting Labour on 5th May. He needn’t worry, though, about my vote going to the Tories – they are indeed the totally desperate option. As one of the middle-class liberals he so despises (and, therefore, very proud of it), as stated elsewhere here I will be voting Lib Dem.
Incidentally, Peter should note that I prefer cabernet sauvignon to shiraz, although seeing as he’s so busy generalising I doubt he’s got time for such details. And by the way, are we middle classes he lambasts the same middle classes as those his party want “the poor” to aspire to being? Surely not!
Spotted while out walking in Richmond today. Click here for more info about the Association of British Jazz’s campaign against Tony Blair’s licensing bill.
It was an appropriate spotting on the day that Mark Lawson wrote an excellent review in the Guardian of The Last Party, a new book by John Harris about the uneasy and short-lived cosying-up between “Britpop” and New Labour when the latter (and the former, come to that) was still trendy. The print version of the review features a cringing photo of Noel Gallagher having a laugh and a glass of champas with Blair back in 1997 – a time when we were all that much more innocent and Tone’s hair was still brown. (NB: Amazon is offering the £15 book at £10.50.)
Talking of Noel, I wonder what Tone’s four-noun autobiography title would be? Suggestions please.
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And talking of Tony, Matthew Parris writes in today’s Times about “the evidence that millions of ordinary people are not amnesiacs, do remember why Mr Blair said Britain must attack [Iraq] and do still care whether that was true.” Along the way, old Tory Parris unnecessarily compares Margaret Thatcher favourably to Blair to back up his argument, but it’s otherwise an excellent piece.
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Also superb in today’s Guardian Review is this essay by E.L. Doctorow about how he started writing, concluding with this interesting thought: “I believe nothing of any beauty or truth comes of a piece of writing without the author’s thinking he has sinned against something – propriety, custom, faith, privacy, tradition, political orthodoxy, historical fact, literary convention, or indeed, all the prevailing community standards together. And that the work will not be realised without the liberation that comes to the writer from his feeling of having transgressed, broken the rules, played a forbidden game without his understanding or even fearing his work as a possibly unforgivable transgression.”
So Clare Short’s finally resigned, huh? If there’s ever a modern-day equivalent of the fable of the boy [sic] who cried wolf, this has to be it. But what’s even more irritating than the fact that Short didn’t follow through her threats to resign before or during the war, when it would have had a tad more credibility, is that she does make some good points in this interview, such as describing Tony Blair as less Washington’s poodle than its “fig leaf”, adding, “Fig leaf number two is ‘blame the French’.”
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Shopping in Tesco’s today, I came across a shocking product, “Get it on”, which described itself as a “sex fruit and seed bar”. Sex, in Tesco’s?? Disgusted by the mere thought of it, I examined the label closely: The Food Doctor, which makes the bars and others in the range, claims that its combination of rye, pumpkin, hemp (hemp??! in Tesco’s??), banana, figs, mango and gingko biloba “support the flow of blood to the extremities… The rest is up to you.” Of course I popped two in my basket immediately (one for me, the other for my wife), covered them with a copy of the Guardian and proceeded warily to the till. I got home, we tore off our wrappers (of the bars, that is), and… well, sadly I have to report that it was less than erotic. In fact, half a mouthful and we were put off just about any kind of romantic activity for the rest of the evening…