Comment: Tony and Bill find growing up is hard to do

"COMPLETELY useless and pathetic" was Tony Blair's response when William Hague asked a series of questions he did not want to answer during Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday. "He is Leader of the Opposition and today we have seen why he will stay so," Mr Blair taunted, demanding to know why Mr Hague had not asked about important issues such as health, education and crime. The obvious riposte is that, with more than four years of the present Parliament to run, Mr Hague has plenty of time to raise all the big issues.

At the moment, especially after Robin Cook's splenetic attack on his former diary secretary, Anne Bullen, it is perfectly legitimate for Mr Hague to query the Foreign Secretary's judgement. It is not Mr Hague's fault that Mr Cook is currently the target of questions about the way he has chosen to conduct his private life, or his foolish decision to consider replacing Ms Bullen with his lover, Gaynor Regan. Nor is it improper for Mr Blair, who appointed Mr Cook, to be called to account on these matters. But his reaction recalled previous outbursts of bad temper by the Prime Minister - on Wednesday, Mr Hague called him "tetchy" - since the autumn.

Mr Blair's demeanour when people challenge him is pained and disbelieving. If the questioning persists, his manner soon shades into irritation. At his best, the Prime Minister has the kind of youthful, energetic charm that wins people over. When he is crossed, the charm switches off and his tone rises to a whine. He speaks faster and his accent - pure English public schoolboy - becomes more pronounced. The sunny, outgoing side of his character appears to be directly connected to the presence of an admiring audience.

When Mr Hague annoyed him this week, he responded like a sulky teenager who doesn't see why he should explain to his parents why he got in at four in the morning. This is ironic, given that Mr Hague is younger than Mr Blair. It is also puzzling behaviour from a Prime Minister who is not just a career politician but a barrister by training.

By Thursday afternoon, when Mr Blair went to the Commons to announce an inquiry into Bloody Sunday, his good temper was restored. His performance was statesmanlike, but, then, the only serious opposition came from the Ulster Unionists. This sequence of events raises a question I have been pondering since the general election: is Mr Blair grown-up? It is easy enough to be charming, or at least polite, when things are going well. The real test comes when a politician is under fire, as we were reminded by President Clinton's consummate State of the Union address this week.

On present form, Mr Blair is showing a worrying tendency to conduct himself like an adolescent. He likes being top of the class, but he is not mature enough to appreciate that being Head Boy carries responsibilities as well as privileges. His range of responses extends from an appeal along the lines of trust-me-I'm-a-prime-minister to schoolboy name-calling. Perhaps that is why he got on so well with the late Princess of Wales, who did so much of her growing up in public.

WHEN I mentioned these thoughts to a friend, who happens to be a psychoanalyst, he agreed - and added that he would rather be governed by Mr Clinton, whom he described as "a grown-up with infantile sexuality".

I'm not sure he is right about the last bit, in that sexual fidelity seems to be an impossible goal for so many adults. Does that mean they have all failed to grow up?

It strikes me that the difficulties we have been witnessing, on both sides of the Atlantic, stem not so much from the sexual appetites of individual men - or women who have a choice whether to have sexual relationships with married men like the President or the Foreign Secretary. The problem is much more to do with a confusion about marriage, which both men appear to support while behaving in ways which contradict its central contract of sexual fidelity.

I don't know whether this is because they truly believe in marriage, or whether there is still a perception that politicians have to subscribe to the mores of a previous generation. I would be far happier with a climate in which powerful men like Mr Clinton admit the truth about their sexual proclivities and spare us the awful spectacle of their wives fantasising on television about right-wing conspiracies. Perhaps Mrs Clinton really believes what she said, but to me it looks like denial on a grand scale. It would be far better if Mr Clinton admitted he has a non-monogamous arrangement with his wife, if that is indeed the case, than to continue with this cycle of accusations, denials and eventual admissions. (Of course Gennifer Flowers was telling the truth about her affair with Mr Clinton. Who ever believed otherwise?)

But that would require him to behave like a grown-up. Perhaps my friend was right, after all.

IN THE middle of all these allegations about sex and sleaze, I went to see Boogie Nights, the movie about the rise and fall of an American porn star. It has had ecstatic reviews, so I was startled to discover just how dull it is, so much so that the friend who went with me spent much of the film asleep. The direction is plodding, the characters rebarbative and it has a puzzlingly irrelevant soundtrack. (The Beach Boys? For a film set in the late Seventies and early Eighties?)

So, why did the critics think otherwise? There is an element of striptease, in that it isn't until the last few frames that Mark Wahlberg, playing blue movie star Dirk Diggler, hooks out of his trousers the 13in prosthesis which all the other characters are supposedly excited about. But for adults who have seen a penis before, indeed a variety of them, this is hardly a satisfactory explanation.

The film's success can, I think, be accounted for much more simply. If you say you've made a serious film about porn, it gives audiences permission to turn up at the kind of "adult" movie they would usually be too embarrassed to attend.

I'd rather watch footage of President Clinton, whose enthusiastic sexual appetite surely merits a fascinating documentary. Set in the White House, starring the President, who could bear to miss Boogie Days?

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

    £30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

    Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

    £65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

    Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

    Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition