Little things mean a lot

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I NEVER really did understand the ERM, but when Norman Lamont bought that booze, my attention got out of bed. Access I know about. The pundits can do wall-to- wall analyses of the exchequer; what gets to me is that, by and large, when you and I overspend our card limit 22 times the way Mr Lamont did, Access is not amused. In terms of political scandal, little things are what stick in my craw like stale peas.

Take Lamont's door mat. What I hate about this man is the patronising tone he used when he said he was sorry about our economic hard times, but implied that we must keep our little lives in order, and the cynicism that suggests it's OK for him to be a domestic financial slob. The Access bill was lost under the mat because the builders were in at Number 11? Bit careless for a chancellor, surely Norm?

You've read it all in the minutest detail, this story of a man who poses as the nation's economic saviour but overspends his Access limit. Who says it was on red wine, not champagne (I have observed whole tables full of perfectly intelligent adults deep in exquisite contemplation of the meaning of the champagne vs the red). It's also about subsequent allegations of public money spent for legal fees incurred evicting a tenant from Lamont's London house. About the tenant, a sex-therapist called 'Miss Whiplash', and her friend, the rapist, 'Dr Sex'. I mean, we're talking Lamont, the mini-series.

Until recently it was sex not booze that did in British politicians, but by the time David Mellor started playing footsie, adultery was commonplace; with Mellor, to my mind, it was the toilet. In that freebie holiday villa, paid for by the daughter of a PLO official, when the toilet broke he said that he called the British consulate, just like any tourist, old chap. No, Dave, the rest of us don't call the consular service to fix the plumbing.

In the age of tabloids and 40 channels of television, when deference is dead, people want to know the stuff that's pertinent to their own lives - although, in a sense, they always did. Think of Harold Wilson and the Gannex mac. And who in America can forget Sherman Adams and the vicuna coat?

Adams was President Eisenhower's chief of staff and the vicuna coat was a bribe from one Bernard Goldfine - along with 150 grand. It was always the coat people remembered; hardly anyone in America even knew what the hell vicuna was; it sounded SINFUL.

There was also Bobby Gene Baker, a Lyndon Johnson era Texan, who ran a string of brothels frequented by many senators, but it was the report of lavender wall-to-wall carpeting that held the nation in thrall, as if this decorating detail gave domestic reality to bigwigs rolling around on purple shag.

And what about Nixon's dog? In 1952, when he was vice-presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, accused of taking campaign money for personal gain, went on television to deny it. He said the only gift he'd taken was a dog named Checkers; he said he was so thrifty, his wife Pat wore a 'good Republican cloth coat' instead of mink. Referred to as the Checkers speech, this was an event named for a pet.

The point of all this is it's the little things - the toilet and the Access bill - that get people riled up. Currently, in Britain, it is also the politicians' self-satisfied ineptitude in what has become the capital of finger-pointing. I hate these grey men on the make, so opportunistic they'll do almost anything, so stupid they get caught. And I hate their patronising view of the rest of us. I know it's not fair, but I even hate Norman Lamont's eyebrows, which look like Leonid Brezhnev's, and that he can't seem to keep his shirt tucked in.

The good news, though, is that from tiny indiscretions mighty scandals grow. The Access incident, for instance, could be the tiny utensil that prises off the lid on an enormous can of worms. Remember, it was not the burglary at the Watergate complex that did Richard Nixon in. It was the cover-up and his hubris.

PS A friend's just called with the suggestion that Lamont's problem is actually the Norman factor - all his brazen posturing an endeavour to transcend a name which registers about 8 on the nerd scale. Think about it. There are the Tories, Fowler and Tebbit. Sir Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf. Norman Willis. Norman Wisdom. Normski. And the world's most evil inn-keeper, Norman Bates of Psycho, who kept his dead mama in the attic, stuffed.

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