Coming out as a Mondeo man

For the new aristocrats in the media this nice car, slightly lacking in poke, represents `them out there'

ONE SHOULD, I suppose, become inured to the occasional sneering personal reference in the public prints. Having survived being described as a sexist snob on the letters page of this newspaper and being held responsible for a load of tosh on the books page of the Times Educational Supplement, I had come to believe that I could shrug off the resentful, small-minded, humourless, sub-literate carpings of so-called "readers" and "critics". Tosh, moi? I mean, honestly.

All the same, a news report last week did cause me the merest wince of irritation. "Bus lanes alone will not shift Mondeo man" read the headlines. According to Richard Knowles of Salford University, co-operation between bus companies and local authorities - an arrangement inevitably known as a "Quality Partnership" - had made little difference to the driving habits of the ordinary motorist, with the exception of those using the Super Route 66 in Ipswich, where even Mondeo men were said to be now using the local bus service.

As it happens, I have probably, while visiting my dentist or travelling to Ferry Cross the Waveney, the excellent new production from the Eastern Angles Theatre Company, got my kicks on Ipswich's Super Route 66 but, if I did, it was in my lovely Starburst-coloured Mondeo.

Owners of more socially acceptable cars - your BMW, your Saab, your dinky little Clio - may have been taking the environmentally responsible Park and Ride option but, if so, I can't say I noticed. Of course, the point that the transport guru from Salford was making was essentially the same as that of the eminent feminist commentator Joan Smith who, in an essay on sexual desire, remarked, "Never trust a man in a Mondeo."

This nice, ordinary car, slightly lacking in poke through third and fourth gears but otherwise entirely harmless, suggests for all civilised commentators a hidebound, conventional type in a Cecil Gee suit, saying "Can I get back to you on that one, Keith?" into a mobile phone and steadfastly refusing to contribute to Quality Partnerships. The fact that my Mondeo - dents fore and aft, a box of undelivered apples and whiffy football kit in the boot, a Willie Nelson cassette in the tape machine - may be as resolutely individual as any other car is beside the point. For the new aristocrats in the media, it's not our kind of car; it represents them out there.

It's not difficult to see why we Mondeo men are subject to patronising sneers. Whereas, during the Eighties, the Thatcherite mindset approved of the ducking-and-diving entrepreneur for whom greed and enrichment was not only a personal imperative but a social responsibility, the new Establishment is the media itself: journalists, celebrity presenters and, above all, publicists.

The time has passed when public relations was regarded as a relatively humble skill, subsidiary to, and dependent upon, professions in which people really produced something. Suddenly, the messenger has become the message.

So when Charlie Whelan allegedly became involved in a bit of PR skulduggery, his subsequent resignation was treated with as much seriousness as the departure of a minister. Or when his boss the Chancellor is revealed to be dating a PR artiste, as is Prince Edward, she is regarded as the ideal consort in an age when the fact of publicity is regarded as more important than what is being publicised.

Because, in stark contrast to the times when there was a healthy divide between those who acted in the political arena and those who commented upon them, the media, the Government and even the Royal Family are now difficult to tell apart.

There is little surprise when previously spiky individualists such as Robert Harris and Peter Hennessy pen tearfully effusive public eulogies to their pals Mandelson and Whelan, because they are all part of the same new Establishment. Similarly, the Windsor family have managed at last to become media friendly through the simple expedient of becoming part of the media.

No wonder that journalists and publicists now behave with unprecedented arrogance, pronouncing loftily upon matters of morality, removing or promoting public figures at will.

Who could be surprised that satirists are unable to get a fix upon the new Government, turning out mild, predictable and grindingly unfunny versions of our new masters? They have found that, once they have laughed at John Prescott's accent and Cook's and Dobson's funny little beards, ministers are simply too similar to themselves to be funny.

Perhaps this is another area of Quality Partnership, but, for us Mondeo men on the outside, it looks creepy and slightly dangerous.

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