The Democratic Convention diary: Words falling on deaf ears

HOW TO describe the bedlam that is the scene on the floor of the Madison Square Gardens this week?

One by one, speakers take to the podium and barely a soul among the throng of delegates, journos and security people pays the blindest bit of attention. There is not even much pause when the brass band lets rip with deafening bars of Souza or the lights go up on the cancan dancers from a Broadway hit.

But then the oratory is almost inaudible, anyway, thanks to the awful acoustics and the crazed chanting and cow-bell ringing of disaffected Jerry Brown supporters. A cross between the concourse in Waterloo station at rush-hour and the Hollywood

Oscars - with a dash of an anarchic toddler's tea-party - might just about do.

A brief sortie to the 'BellSouth Media Lounge' - free beer and sandwiches provided by a private telephone company - offers a reminder that what seems like mayhem in the flesh translates into flawless television for the rest of the country, which, after all, is all that matters here.

There on the video screens above the bar is the image of David Dinkins, the Mayor of New York, delivering a stirring speech, so vivid - and audible - it is hard to imagine you and he are attending the same party.

The Gardens, you quickly realise, is nothing but a giant television set and the press and assembled delegates are only the unpaid extras and props. Fun, though. The television networks, incidentally, seem to be having second thoughts about cutting live coverage of the convention in half this year. ABC Television said after the first night that a poll showed a majority of viewers disapproved. The CBS network reported that it was to reinstate live broadcasts for an extra two hours tonight for the nomination speech by Mario Cuomo, the Governor of New York.

Journalists despairing of the paucity of hard news and wilting in the 90-degree heat as they queued at the media entrance to the Gardens might find fresh inspiration from glancing at the Greek-temple monolith of the US Post Office across the street. Above the doric columns is engraved the motto, surely just as apt for us as for the mailmen: 'Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat Nor Gloom of Night Stays these Couriers From the Swift Completion of their Appointed Rounds.'

An area just beneath the Post Office dubbed the 'Protest Pen' has been barricaded off and given over to the myriad demonstrators in town to hawk their various agendas.

Loudest above the cacophony are the chants and slogans of the pro- and anti-abortion groups which have also been clashing all week outside Manhattan abortion clinics and which may yet take their war on to the floor of the hall. Mercifully, anti-abortion leaders have been barred by a federal judge from making a gift of an aborted foetus to Bill Clinton. But they may try it anyway.

The Cookie War, meanwhile, is hotting up. Fans of Hillary Clinton are handing out chocolate chip cookies - made to her recipe - to convention delegates, who in return are asked to vote for her in a tongue-in-cheek magazine baking contest with Barbara Bush. Delicious they are too.

The secret, apparently, is not to sift the flour and to use one cup of firmly packed light-brown sugar. (For full recipe details send a stamped, addressed envelope to this diary).

Remember all the helpful advice given to visiting delegates on how to stay alive in the Big Apple? No real calamities so far, except for the mugging of Ronald Squires, a Vermont representative who now has a stitched nose after losing his wallet, and dignity, in the early hours of yesterday on Lexington Avenue.

Other incidents include the arrest of a Princeton woman for masquerading as the Clintons' daughter and attempting to abduct the child of a Puerto Rican legislator, and the theft of a Mississippi delegate's underwear from her hotel.

This, they say, is the year when the old liberal ghosts of the Democratic Party will finally be buried. That does not mean that some of the old warriors are not around. Last night, ex-President Jimmy Carter, was allowed on the convention platform for the first time since his nomination, also at Madison Square Gardens, in 1980 - before his disastrous defeat by Ronald Reagan later that year.

And George McGovern, blamed by some for first steering the party leftward in 1972, was feted at a twentieth anniversary nomination party yesterday. Among his guests was Jesse Jackson - not quite yet a man of the past, but clearly endangered - who followed Mr Carter on to the podium yesterday evening.

Talking of old faces, my scouts have spotted Roy Hattersley and Sir David Steel, over to partake of the party hoopla. Mr Hattersley, mindful of his own party's disappointments this year, will doubtless be counselling caution to any Democrats counting their White House chickens ahead of time.

(Photograph omitted)