Sunday, May 22, 2005


I have never much liked George Galloway. His garish style and the arrogance which seems to simmer constantly just beneath the surface have often made me think that if Elmer Gantry had been a politician he would have looked exactly like the gorgeous Mr Galloway.

But the man is clearly a genius with a brilliant grasp of the purposes and use of publicity. As a US Senate Committee, who besmirched his reputation over the Iraq oil for food programme and can put the fear of God into many mortals, found out this week.

His appearance before them not only raised his profile on the international stage but he told America’s power brokers exactly what a lot of people in Britain think and feel about them. A voice not reckoned in the Washington’s corridors of power spoke his mind straight.

Naturally, he didn’t answer their questions — politicians don’t do answering questions, just say what they want to say — but his careful choice of the words which flow so fluently and articulately from his lips skilfully turned the spotlight on the corruption and greed which stalk the American politico-business scene.

His comparison of the differences between his own and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield’s meetings with Saddam Hussain was theatre at its most sublime.

People who doubt their ability to be who they want to be and achieve their aims are often advised to behave as if they are and have achieved them.

Even when he was virtually unknown outside his native Dundee, George Galloway has always behaved as if he already was who he wanted to be — someone to be reckoned. As anyone who has impugned his integrity has learned to their cost over the years.

And he’s a bonny fighter, whose answer to being tossed out of the Labour Party was to set up his own, the timely named Respect.

Today, after a stormy electoral campaign leading to a vote which decimated high profile Blair Babe Oona King’s 10,000 plus majority and had him romping home in Bethnal Green and Bow, he is Respect’s only MP. Chomping on his Churchillian cigar, he already travels at the speed of a global statesman on a lightning mission. After Washington on Tuesday, he was among his constituents in London on Wednesday and in Edinburgh on Thursday as part of the BBC’s Question Time panel.

Whatever his critics say, in a world of endless, meaningless sound bites where few, if any, people believe a word a politician says, gorgeous Mr Galloway has the appeal of an old-fashioned orator and the charisma to speak to and move hearts.

His instinctive, unerring ear for what constituents really want is worth more than the work of a thousand market researchers and probably as many focus groups.

His most difficult days may well be over now.

Unlike the vast majority of Britain’s over 600 odd Members of Parliament, who leave Westminster as unsung and unheard of as the day they entered it, he has arrived back with his profile higher than ever. And a freedom of speech it was difficult and dangerous for him to enjoy when he was a backbench Labour MP. Doubtless he will catch the Speaker’s eye and use it. Copyright Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 15, 2005


A ghastly television commercial for KFC’s Zinger Chicken Salad shows a group of young women emergency call centre workers trying to sing with their mouths full.

Heads lolling and food dripping from their parted lips, they look as if they have been binge drinking and staggered into KFC to soak up some of the alcohol before they reel back into the street.

Far from encouraging you to sample the salad at your local branch, it’s enough to put you off ever going there again.
In two weeks the Advertising Standards Authority has received 1,133 complaints about the ad, whose loud and clear message is that these young women not only have no table manners but no respect for themselves — or anyone else.

Nor do the bride, the vicar and the guests slamming piled high plates into one another’s faces at a wedding reception in the new Wall’s ice cream TV commercial.

Both ads reflect that the culture of no respect, which used to belong to underground, marginal worlds, has now become mainstream.

Mayhem on the local High Street on Friday and Saturday nights, hooligans high on drugs and the horrific expansion of mugging into ‘happy slapping’, in which assaults on victims are photographed on mobile phones to be gloated over and laughed at later by the attackers, are now part of everyday life.

The decline and fall of education and family life are undoubtedly big contributory factors. People who don’t have a decent home life and leave school unable to express themselves adequately in their own language quickly turn to violence and crime, to which there seems to be no proper response.

Almost every day the papers are full of stories from the courts about the guilty getting off with light, inappropriate sentences while victims are left wondering what they did wrong and why the system seems loaded in favour of the criminal.

Stand up for yourself, as Linda Walker did when she fired an air gun in the street in as a warning to her tormentors, and you could get an 18 month prison sentence.

Though she was released after only five weeks in jail, Mrs Walker’s conviction stands.

The message is that if vandals or thieves harass you or invade your property, you had best do nothing and let them get away with it.
The appalling irony of the Human Rights Act, which was supposed to recognise and respect the rights of all of us, is that it so often seems to undermine deterrents to bad behaviour and be weighted more in favour of the sinners than the sinned against.
The prevalence of targeting is also part of this ugly picture. We are all targets now.
Details of our lives, likes, dislikes and habits are ruthlessly collected and stored on data bases, often to be sold on, so that we can be targeted.
Whether it’s the government with the NHS, banks irresponsibly lending vast sums to people who have no hope of repaying them, supermarkets with loyalty cards or a gang or ‘hoodies’ lining up a ‘happy slapping’ victim, targeting is the name of the game.
But once the target has been hit, the commercial targeters distance themselves from their victims as fast as ‘happy slappers’ who’ve mugged and videod a man on a bus.
Try complaining when something which cost a lot of money goes wrong and you get fobbed off with a stream of voicemail messages before you can reach a human being. When — or if — you do, he or she is probably in a call centre halfway across the world and all they can do is pass on your message, not solve your problem.
You are left feeling helpless and frustrated and that once the targeters have got your money, they don’t really want to know.
For our lives to make sense we need to be respected, to feel that we count and our feelings matter. We also need to be confident that our property, be it a suburban home, a car or bicycle or even just a pencil of our office desk will not be vandalised or stolen. Or there will be a fitting penalty.
We believe this is only justice. And there is a deep longing in our hearts for justice and respect.
Few of us want to go back to the cap doffing days of unquestioning submission to authority when people knew their place and stayed in it. But we need sufficient redress.
Perhaps it is time to review the Human Rights Act and the work of judges. The Data Protection Act might also benefit from inspection. That could at least be a start to showing some respect. Copyright Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 08, 2005


A man in America once introduced Cherie Blair to an audience as ‘Britain’s First Lady.’
Obviously he couldn’t tell his Boston tea party from his Gone With The Wind. But Cherie wouldn’t have minded.
As the UK’s real First Lady, the Queen, was over three thousand miles away across the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a fair chance her broad lips even slipped into full letterbox mode.
When she meets the US First Lady, Laura Bush, she probably feels the hat fits.
But Cherie is no First Lady.
For a start she doesn’t even look the part.
With the well-upholstered hips and thighs of a ‘traditionally built’ woman, Cherie, who barrels along in the drunken sailor style of Ariel Sharon, rubbishes good clothes.
Stick a £10,000 designer number on her back and it looks as if it came from George at ASDA.
Instead of letting her long time pal and health and beauty adviser, Carole Caplin, solicit discounts on her behalf, she ought to pay designers for the damage to their reputations when she dons their best frocks.
When she tries to look regal, she looks ill at ease and worried about the impression she is making. With good reason. A desperate housewife would have looked more like royalty than Cherie did when she turned up at London’s Guildhall decked out like a fancy dress version of Marie Antoinette.
Though she’s not the sort of woman who normally arouses sympathy, you almost felt sorry that it was yet another sad try which hadn’t worked for her.
The painful truth is that Cherie, who longs to look glamorous and sexy like Nancy Del’Olio or Carole, hasn’t got the oomph or chutzpah or confidence to carry it off. There’s a lurking insecurity there which damns her best efforts.
She’s also tactless and, despite all the PR help she gets, exhibits the symptoms of chronic foot-in-mouth disease whenever she parts those post-box lips in public.
Her plea in her defence following her flat purchases in Bristol with the aid of Carole’s then boy friend, Australian conman Peter Foster, was a publicity disaster.
While her husband, with the help of TV chef, Jamie Oliver, was promising better school meals for all children, she revealed she had little faith in the possible success of his efforts by telling a school in Birmingham that she would probably give her youngest son, Leo, a lunch box with sandwiches and fruit when he starts at a reputedly very good school.
Last week, in the closing days of the election, her blabbing reached new heights — or depths, depending on your point of view — when she talked to a tabloid about her sex life with ‘five times a night’ Tony.
The woman just doesn’t know how to behave.
Maybe it’s in her genes and, despite her lawyer’s training in manipulating words, she has an inborn talent for turning potential publicity triumph to disaster whenever she opens her mouth.
Her father, actor Tony Booth, whose greatest role was as Alf Garnett’s git son-in-law in the TV series Till Death Us Do Part, was better known for the number of his marriages than his tact.
Like her husband, Cherie adores the fabulously rich and enjoys freeloading at their expense, which the Blair family did last year as holiday guests of multi-millionaire Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — among others.
Cherie was also reported to be making more money for herself than the charity she was supporting on a lecture tour of Australia promoting her book, The Goldfish Bowl, which didn’t sell in the UK. Perhaps because, like her, it’s boring.
Though she appears to have it all – the successful husband, the growing healthy family and a career which can earn her a fat cat salary at the Bar – it doesn’t seem to be enough for her. She cuts a discontented, unsatisfied figure who seems as obsessed with being a celebrity in her own right as any kid who wants to be famous.
Add it all up and it’s not just that Cherie is no First Lady. A woman who talks to a tabloid about her love life isn’t even a decent role model. Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 01, 2005


Like a swarm of locusts, politicians and attendant journalists have emerged from their Westminster eyrie and descended all over Britain these past few weeks.
In the name of democracy, and travelling faster than American tourists in Europe, they have swept the country by plane and train, helicopter and bus.
If it’s Monday it must be Luton, Northampton, Nottingham, Newcastle – but thankfully they can be back in bed in London before the circus starts again on Tuesday.
Thank God, it will soon all be over, they sigh as they try to snatch a few winks before the spring morning light disrupts their sleep and they’re off again.
Whatever the election outcome, by Friday they will gratefully only have to talk to each other again. And not have to ask ordinary ‘real’ people about what a former Labour Sports Minister, Tony Banks, (soon to take his seat in the House of Lords) recently sneeringly called their ‘intellectually numbing’ needs.
Many journalists feel the same way.
Doing a ‘vox pop’ is work fit only for pollsters and the lowliest of junior reporters. Not political and media stars.
BBC staff are reported to be so fed up with talking to ordinary mortals they want to stop their ‘informed’ people having to talk to ‘real’ people who are ‘not informed.’
Perhaps it was to cut down on such interviews that out with their touring election bus the BBC got voters to write their concerns on notes which were stuck on notice boards that were then shown on the TV news.
But hey, it’s an election. You’ve got to make a show of wanting to know what ‘real’ people think — even if, as Donald Rumsfield might put it, they don’t know they don’t know.
So it’s a dreadful shock when ordinary people turn out to be intelligent, articulate — and lethal.
The ‘real’ woman who tackled Prime Minister Tony Blair on the BBC’s Question Time and voiced the frustration of millions about the difficulty of getting a doctor’s appointment under the government’s 48-hour target system reduced him to ribbons in nano seconds.
Sweating profusely and wondering what had hit him, an embarrassed Blair admitted the problem was ‘news’ to him.
He looked as if he lived on a different planet from his questioner.
In real terms he probably does.
This may be why he has insulated himself with carefully selected journalists on his travels. Anyone who might be hostile doesn’t get a seat on his plane. They may even have a hard time finding out where he is going.
At least part of the problem of media manipulation, spin and briefing against colleagues who are no longer in favour, which the Blair government has operated, is the symbiotic relationship which exists between politicians and the journalists who regularly cover their activities.
It is not confined to Westminster. The danger of being suborned and not reporting unfavourable news exists in all specialist areas of journalism. Perhaps it was most tellingly illustrated by the uncovering of the Watergate scandal by two ordinary reporters on the Washington Post and not by their White House correspondent.
The most brilliant editor I have ever worked for wanted to switch his specialists around. He would have moved the City editor to Westminster after a couple of years and then to the diplomatic beat two years after that, if he had got his way. But the system was too entrenched and murmurs about a possible strike bringing his successful enterprise to a halt made him back off.
‘They talk about the importance of their contacts,’ he sighed. ‘But a good reporter will always get the story.’
When it comes to having their voices heard, ‘real’ people also face the problem that it is not ‘cool’ to be ordinary.
To be valued, you must be famous, a celebrity. And fame, no matter how brief, is the spur which motivates the young in particular.
To say most celebrities are nouveau is not the right way to describe them. The American shoddy, which means the same, is a far better name for their ilk.
Former Labour MP Brian Sedgemore, who’s fled to the Liberal Democrats, says Finance Minister Gordon Brown has intellect but no backbone.
Brown, who currently seems joined by the torso to Tony Blair, has once more shown he’s not up to the job of Prime Minister. His support for Blair over the summary of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s caveats about the legality of the war in Iraq was a cringe-making public exhibition of crawling — not leadership.
If Blair gets re-elected and kicks him in the teeth again it’s what Brown deserves.
Condoleezza Rice used to pussyfoot at a discreet distance behind American President George W Bush when she was his National Security Adviser.
Now US Secretary of State, she strides the world like a bossy Big Sister, telling every country and continent how to behave.
In Moscow she lectures President Vladimir Putin on the need for Russia to improve its democracy and free up its media.
At a NATO conference in Vilnius she warns Belarus — ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’ — she’s watching and it had better look out and mend its ways.
According to her, there is no need for Europe to lift its arms embargo on China because the US takes care of things in the Far East.
She’s doubtless speaking with her master’s voice. But as she’s supposed to be a diplomat, she ought to put it more politely.
As he looks like what Saddam Hussein will do at eighty, it may be just as well if John Bolton never becomes America’s man at the United Nations.
Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved