TV caps Gingrich glory day

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NEWT GINGRICH, the bombastic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, made an unprecedented 25-minute speech live on national television on Friday night glorying in the achievements of the first 100 days of the Republican "Contract with America".

It was the first instance of television networks, in this case CBS and CNN, making prime time available for an address by a congressional leader. The honour is usually afforded only to the President.

Mr Gingrich said that the Contract was merely a first step. "The purpose of all this change is not simply a better government, it is a better America."

The speech came as the culmination of a day of celebration for House Republicans, who gathered on the steps of Capitol Hill with family and friends and, to a loud musical accompaniment, jostled to snatch air time on the lesser news channels.

Mr Gingrich had promised that House Republicans would break all legislative speed records and vote on the 10 items of the Contract within 100 days. That they did, losing some, winning some, but mainly leaving questions open as to whether some of the more draconian bills - wiping out social welfare payments, cutting taxes at the expense of the federal deficit - stood any chance of making it past the Senate and President Clinton.

The one sure thing was that Mr Gingrich was experiencing his day in the sun. The bad news was the latest in a line of national opinion polls showing that 61 per cent of people do not think he understands their problems, and 52 per cent think him neither honest nor trustworthy.Previous polls have found that half the American public have never even heard of the Contract.