Scandal fails to dim the Kennedy glitz

The Kennedy clan may be mired in irresistable scandal once again - this time it is an alleged affair between Michael Kennedy, the son of the slain presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, and an underage babysitter - but at least one member of the family still believes in the cache of Camelot.

Kerry McCarthy, a second cousin of John F Kennedy, will today mark what would have been the late president's 80th birthday in a manner that not every Hyannis afficionado will find entirely tasteful: she is launching a line of nautical leisure wear bearing the Kennedy name.

More precisely, the clothes will sell under the brandname JFK PT. The PT part is a reference to the Kennedy's command in the Second World War of a patrol-torpedo boat, PT-109. For the folks heading to Cape Cod this year, these fashion items will surely be a must. A JFK PT hat will be on the shelves for a mere $19.95. For that seriously rakish (pardon me, presidential) look, a blazer can be yours for $119.95.

To any student of Massachusetts politics, however, Ms McCarthy's timing would seem a bit off. The latest bearer of the Kennedy hex, which has produced such sensations as Chappaquiddick in 1969 and the Willam Kennedy Smith rape trial in 1992, Michael is being investigated for allegedly sleeping with his family baby sitter when she was only fourteen. He could face charges of statutory rape.

The scandal, moreover, has erupted just as Michael's brother, Congressman Joe Kennedy, is preparing to campaign to become the next Governor of Massachusetts.

The lapping tide of Michael's troubles combined with Joe's own controversial battle to have his first marriage to Sheila Rauch Kennedy annulled by the Catholic Church, has sent the Congressman's popularity plummeting.

Indeed, there is talk that after 18 straight wins by Kennedy men in 18 general elections in Massachusetts this may be the year the spell is broken. "I'm convinced that if the story continues to excalate, he'll drop out of the governor's race and go back to what the Kennedys consider private life: a seat in Congress," commented Republican consultant Kevin Sowyrda.

But Ms McCarthy is gambling that JFK remains a hot brand, whatever the electoral mood. If she is proven right, who knows where else political merchandising might catch on? How long before Harvey Nichols begins boasting Maggie Thatcher handbags? Anyone interested in a Michael Foot donkey jacket?

Nor is she too bothered by accusations of mercenary exploitation of the family name. "I think it has been commercialised for years and years and years. I think every book that comes out about Kennedy is a commercialisation".

And if the family itself objects? Too bad, she replies, "because I can't do anyting about it if they are".