Editor-At-Large: Don't lecture me on green ethics if you live a life of luxury

It's difficult enough to make environmentally sound purchases without spendthrift millionaire MPs laying down the law
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ethics – such a small word, but so overused. A set of rules to run your life/business by, ethics means different things to different people.

If you are the bloke in charge of the National Audit Office, for example, you can run up hundreds of thousands in bills for swanky dinners and luxury hotel rooms around the world – all in the name of checking government expenditure – and no one in the civil service stops and questions your "ethics" until journalists print the story, and then you magically take early retirement, on a full pension, of course.

If you are a poor farmer in Kenya or Zambia growing beans for a British supermarket, new "ethical" standards adopted by the Soil Association mean that you can't label your beans organic – even if that's exactly how they were grown – unless your business is run to the standards (giving your workers decent pay and conditions) adopted by those of the Fair Trade organisation.

All very laudable – it's an elegant solution squaring our demand for organic food with the environmental damage engendered by air freighting it halfway around the world. The only problem is that growing organic vegetables brings valuable income to some of the poorest countries in Africa.

We just have to hope that these new "ethical" standards don't mean that workers get laid off when contracts are cancelled by British supermarkets, anxious that customers won't buy greens unless they have that magical word organic emblazoned across it.

Ethics. Some days I get a headache brought on by working out how to be green, how to be ethically sound – don't you? Aren't our lives just so bloody complicated the minute you've got to factor in your emissions, your carbon footprint, your volume of waste (thanks goodness Gordon couldn't face the outcry and has delayed charging by the bin load for the time being). Then there are air miles, unnecessary holidays, and personal petrol consumption.

Even when I've cut down on all that evil activity, taking the train and doubling my walking, I can't go shopping without worrying about the bloody air miles my corn on the cob has travelled, or whether that gorgeous pomegranate I picked up in a moment of weakness in the local greengrocer was flown to North Yorkshire or hitched a lift here of its own accord.

I'm telling you, it's easy to spend the whole day calculating, adding up, shredding, composting, recycling and ferrying empties to the bottle bank. And at the same time as you read about ethical trade and organic beans, you find there's a huge article devoted to the newest Airbus, launched last week. You could fill the ruddy thing with enough organic beans to turn around the entire Kenyan economy in one plane trip.

But just as we squared our consciences by telling African farmers how to join our ethically clean food club, a bit of bad news floats across the horizon. In spite of government pledges to cut pollution, the amount of food flown into Britain for the year 2005/6 went up by an astonishing 31 per cent.

Targets have been set committing us to reducing the environmental impact of food miles by 20 per cent by 2012 – and at this rate we haven't a snowball in hell's chance of achieving that.

By the way, it's the same government whose members claimed £88m in expenses, according to figures released last week. The same government MPs who claim up to £35,000 each on postage – and thousands of pounds more on stationery. Not a lot of recycling in evidence, if you ask me.

Talking of environmental pollution: what about the MPs who claim over £15,000 annually for the upkeep of second homes when some of them live an hour's journey from Westminster?

Talk me through the "ethics" of the millionaire Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward, who is married to an heiress and who owns homes in France, upstate New York, the West Indies, as well as a huge pile in this country. Mr Woodward claimed £133,729 in expenses, including over £22,000 towards a second home.

This is the bunch of people telling the rest of the world how to grow their beans – and telling us what constitutes ethical living and environmental awareness. Sick, isn't it?

Worthing isn't ready for a lippy Yankee lesbian

It's hard to feel sorry for an upfront female like Sandra Bernhard, the comedian and star of the cinematic classic 'The King of Comedy', in which she acts Robert De Niro off the screen, but please try. A few years ago Miss Lippy was snogging Madonna, mouthing off on American television and modelling for 'Vogue'.

We met when I produced a BBC series starring Ruby Wax, and boy, did Miss Bernhard wipe the floor with poor Ruby. Their "chat" was arctic, the comedy chemistry non-existent. I don't know if Ruby stuck Sandra on a secret shit list, but if she did, she will be thrilled. Ms Bernhard is currently touring Britain, reduced to appearing in places like Huddersfield and Worthing, receiving lukewarm reviews.

There are some parts of the UK that will never be ready for a Yankee lesbian, and Worthing is one of them. I had the misfortune to try out my own one-woman show at the same theatre on the pier there – and the memory makes me feel queasy, several years later.

Kelvin's unchecked Cech tale costs him... a cheque

It is no secret that I loathe the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who made a career out of telling feeble jokes about me long after we stopped working together at L!VE TV almost a decade ago.

This is the chap who told me he left his mistress to return to his wife, because he couldn't face holding in his fat paunch when he got out of bed to go to the bathroom every morning. Mr MacKenzie's sense of humour has always been unusual – this is the Sun editor who compared my face to a picture of a horse and asked readers who was the uglier.

Recently, he has slagged off an entire nation, Scotland, claiming that the Scots sponge off the British. Brilliant, and so brave, Kelvin.

So when I read that Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and his wife Martina had taken Mr MacKenzie to court over a libellous article he wrote in his column in The Sun last year, I wondered if Mr Cech, who hails from the Czech Republic, was just suffering from a lack of understanding of the unique qualities of the MacKenzie wit.

The offending article concerned an alleged attack by Mrs Cech's labrador on Kelvin's partner Sarah while she was walking their retriever near their home in Surrey. Not only was Kelvin's version of events found to be totally untrue, but also in fact his dog was to blame: The Sun will have to pay between £50,000 and £100,000 in damages to Mr and Mrs Cech as well as costs.

I don't know why, but I find that really entertaining. Will The Sun now be employing a fact-checker?