The US Presidential Elections: Convention Diary: Banners win the war of words

FOR THOSE - and that means most of us - never quite certain what is actually being debated on the convention floor, there are a few helpful pointers.

Theme words like 'hope' or 'responsibility' flash up occasionally on the video wall behind the (always inaudible) speaker. Or, if you can understand it, you can always watch the lady signing for the deaf. Perhaps the best trick is to scan the ebb and flow of hand-held placards.

Pink triangles began to sprout when Aids was the issue, mixed with a few demanding lesbian rights. Banners with 'Health Care Our Families Can Afford' signalled, surprise, the health debate.

Just as we thought we had a handle on proceedings, there was a baffling eruption of pink placards bearing the single word, 'NOT]'. 'Not what?', we wondered as the placards suffused the hall, bobbing in a thousand excited hands.

This, we came to realise, was a manifestation of the current American fad of tagging an expletive 'Not]' on the end of a sentence to negate what has just been said. For instance: 'Democrats love George Bush. Not]'.

The placards had been distributed by Jerry Brown supporters opposed to the adoption of the '92 Democratic policy platform.

A banner war has been raging all week between Mr Brown's 600-odd followers and the thousands of Clinton delegates. Until last night, when their man was finally allowed on to the podium, the Brown troops were sporting mouth gags and waving 'Let Jerry Speak' placards and other variations on the theme.

The Clinton camp struck back with, 'Let Jerry Sleep'. One Brownie, lost for a witty slogan, was seen gripping a piece of card that read simply: 'Generic Protest Sign'.

The Vice-President, Dan Quayle, is once again the butt of endless quips, not just on the podium, but also on the myriad of convention ephemera like buttons, T-shirts and car stickers. Especially overworked are gags to do with his recent misspelling of potato, which he had as potatoe. And then there is the T-shirt listing 'Top Ten Reasons for Voting Democrat' - reasons one to nine are 'Jobs'. Reason 10: 'Dan Quayle'.

Meanwhile, any hope of the TV networks nursing serious regrets over their decision to slash live coverage must have faded following the release of the first- night viewing figures. As at first suspected, the Democrats are a ratings bust. No channel attracted more than a measly five million households for convention coverage.

The ratings winner on Monday evening was Rupert Murdoch's Fox Network, which drew more than seven million with the film 'The Revenge of the Nerds, Part III'.

There have been moments, it must be said, when the delegates have been moved to stop their jostling and chattering. The longest, most moving, hush was awarded to Elizabeth Glaser, wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser, Starsky in the cop show 'Starsky and Hutch'. She contracted Aids from a blood transfusion while giving birth to her daughter Ariel.

Delegates stood frozen, some weeping, as she accused the Bush administration of inaction and recounted how she passed the virus first to Ariel, who died in 1988, and later, through breast-feeding, to her son, Jake.

Roy Hattersley and other Labour bods such as Gordon Brown and even Lord Clinton- Davis are still in town, but not for much longer. Mr Hattersley has confided that, such is his anxiety not to miss the vote for Labour Party leader on Saturday, he plans to leave the Big Apple before the climax of the convention tonight, when Mr Clinton delivers his acceptance speech.

As feared, one anti-abortion fanatic finally got close enough to Mr Clinton to present him with a human foetus in a clear plastic box. A tasteful use of the First Amendment right to free expression. Not]

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