Tuesday 2 May 2006

Jags, shags and disillusionment

It was one of those moments I shall never forget, like hearing about Kennedy’s assassination or Diana’s car crash. My first reaction was total disbelief, and I had to stop what I was doing and channel-hop until it came up on the news again. Then there was the added complication that the following story was about a new wheeze for carrying economy class air passengers strapped upright on boards. So I felt obliged to do a Google search to ensure that April Fool’s Day hadn’t been moved towards the end of the month as the result of some EU directive.

It had not, so it must be true. John Prescott had been having a two year affair with his diary secretary, a woman young enough to be his daughter. Can there be a middle-aged man in the country whose heart did not soar at the news? For those of us of a certain age and an uncertain beauty, it’s the most cheering thing since David Mellor got embroiled with that actress, even if much of the salacious detail of Chelsea shirts and toe-sucking subsequently proved to be a PR man’s invention. (I forget whether he was hired to enhance Mr Mellor’s reputation or Antonia de Sancha’s.)

Of course, it is not difficult to spot what might appeal to the fairer sex about the rotund, tongue-tied yet physically direct Deputy Prime Minister. It falls into the same category as Mrs Merton’s famous question to Debbie McGee about what first attracted her to the millionaire Paul Daniels. They say that power is one of the best aphrodisiacs, along with money and laughter. I’ve tried to major on the last myself, but to precious little effect. I did point out rather huffily to a friend that women’s laughter has resounded in my bedroom many times over the years. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but they’re meant to be laughing WITH you when you tell one of your charming anecdotes, not AT you when you take your clothes off. You need to be more Hugh Grant, less Johnny Vegas.’ Well, thanks for having a word with God about that when he was handing out physiques.

Still, as our beloved Deputy Prime Minister has demonstrated, nothing’s impossible. Being a former Cunard steward who apparently speaks English as a third language hasn’t stopped him rising to become probably the most powerful man in Britain so far as domestic policy is concerned, presiding over a vast super-ministry that is pressing ahead with a far-reaching programme of regionalisation, even if we in the North East were too thick to put our crosses in the right box when we were consulted. Not to mention demolishing homes up here, spreading new ones across the South and bringing wind farms to a hilltop near you.

At the same time, as I write this we have a Home Secretary who has been happily letting foreign murderers back into the community, and a Health Secretary so far gone into la-la land that she really believes the NHS has been having its best year ever. For incompetence, sleaze and even sexual shenanigans, New Labour has proved more than the equal of anything the Conservatives could manage at their nadir under John Major.

Being less than a fan of the current dictatorship, you might think I find this heartening. But I don’t. Dave the chameleon does nothing for me, other than inspiring wonderment that a party would wait until the whole country was fed up to the back teeth with Tony Blair, then choose a leader modelled on him in putting opportunism before principle, style before substance. As for Ming the merciless – well, at least Charles Kennedy was a laugh.

Our leaders have started worrying about voters switching to extreme minority parties. Perhaps they should pay more attention to the silent majority who won’t vote at all in the important local elections on 4 May, because they reckon politicians are ‘all the same’. I wonder why?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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