Diary: Undress for electoral success
Thursday 11 August 2011
One naturally imagines that the Scandinavians are a civilised bunch, and that Denmark's population would not be prone to prurience. Yet, according to the FT, it has been obliquely suggested by a number of Danish newspapers that the front-runner in the country's forthcoming elections would have an even better chance of becoming Prime Minister if she took her clothes off. Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, 44, is best known in the UK as Neil Kinnock's daughter-in-law (she's married to his son, Stephen). A Danish news agency has now produced a widely reported study claiming that the word most Googled next to Ms Thorning-Schmidt's name is "naked" – which means, presumably, that many Danish web users are keen to see her in her birthday suit. This column has conducted its own thoroughly unscientific survey to discover the terms Googled alongside our own leading women politicians, and I'm happy to report no such unseemliness. "Theresa May" yields nothing dirtier than "shoes"; "Baroness Warsi" the more abstract "egged"; and Labour deputy leader "Harriet Harman" is sought alongside the stiflingly dull "surgery" (presumably as in "constituency", not "cosmetic").
* As the clean-up continues, this column feels that its duty is to highlight the hidden consequences of the riots: the human costs incurred by our public figures, many of whom are far too stoic and/or discreet to complain. For example, as I reported as long ago as April, Nick "29 Shags" Clegg, the Deputy PM, has for months been telling VIP visitors to the Cabinet Office how much he's looking forward to enjoying an unrivalled view of the Olympic beach volleyball tournament from his office window, which overlooks Horseguards Parade. Yet on Tuesday, as the first matches of a six-day test tournament (featuring 24 bikini-clad teams from around the world) were getting underway, poor Nick was instead on his way to Birmingham to be heckled mercilessly by angry locals. Says a Cabinet Office spokesman, when asked whether the DPM was disappointed to miss it, "Er... I'm not sure that was in his diary, anyway." Well, not the official diary, obviously.
* For an unrivalled insight into the everyday life of a cabinet minister, there is no better source than The Times's Sarah Vine – aka Mrs Michael Gove, flapjack-maker extraordinaire – who tends to fill her weekly column with the first draft of Coalition history. Vine reveals that the Gove household was indeed directly affected by the unrest in London: she and her daughter both had their bicycles stolen from their back garden in (where else?) Notting Hill. As Education Secretary, Mr Gove has some responsibility for the rehabilitation of the nation's feckless youth. But can he really be expected to make policy without personal bias, after his own family has suffered such an outrage?
* Of course, few of the Cabinet could claim to have been unaffected by the week's events, since so many of them have had to cut short their holidays in order to return and be heckled by ungrateful members of the public (see above). I hope this won't cause them to act rashly in response. The most disgruntled of all the holidaymakers is likely to be the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, whose automated out-of-office response to urgent emails was unequivocal, informing his correspondents that his inbox would be "closed" from 20 July to 5 September. He does like a proper holiday, does Ken. The Ministry of Justice would not reveal where their man had been summering yesterday, but assured me that he would return for the recall of Parliament this morning. Given how cranky he's likely to be, I expect all that high-minded talk of "lighter sentences" and "closing courts" to be replaced by corporal punishment and/or the return of national service.
* And it's not only the politicians making sacrifices; senior commentators, too, have been forced to rise from their pool loungers with their trunks still wet. As if he needed to top up that perma-tan, the BBC's Andrew Neil has been chasing rays at his home in the South of France. But even Brillo has been obliged to come back to the capital, to host The Daily Politics when Parliament gets back into session today. Neil, known to appreciate the finer things in life, wouldn't normally show his face again until party conference season. As one of my many anonymous BBC moles remarks: "Forget the PM coming back. If Brillo is being dragged away from his beloved French Riviera in August, then you know things are really serious."
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