Editor-At-Large: For Gord's sake, please remember you're British

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown has this rose-tinted dream of celebrating "Britishness", whatever that might be, with a lavish exhibition in Westminster showcasing treasures such as Magna Carta. This grandiose project develops a theme dear to Mr Brown's heart - a cynic might think it's risen up his personal agenda as he approaches a general election as the probable new leader of the Labour Party. One might think he's mindful that some English voters might not be too enthusiastic about a Scot running the country.

Back in January, he floated the idea that Remembrance Sunday should be re-launched as "British Day" and turned into the UK equivalent of the US's Fourth of July celebrations. Then last week, visiting a school in London's East End, he returned to this idea of Britishness as a set of shared values that glues our disparate society together.

The teenagers Mr Brown spoke to in Tower Hamlets had a whole heap of ideas about what is special and unique about Britain - they ranged from fish and chips to free health care.

Gordon Brown has repeatedly cited freedom of speech, responsibility and fairnessover the past few months. Presumably, he also means organisations such as the BBC and hugely expensive events such as the Olympics. But as one commentator wrote last week, what Gordon wants - a united Britain full of people who get along and like being in the same club, patriotic but not xenophobic - is not exactly a view shared by his fellow countrymen, more than half of whom want independence, thanks very much, and sod the other three countries involved in the Union.

This idea of Britishness took another blow last week when it emerged that one of our most iconic brands, Burberry, is planning to close its factory in the Rhondda Valley, in South Wales, because it costs about £12 to make one of their polo shirts in the UK and about £4 in the Far East. To many, Burberry is just as British as the Union Jack- it's up there with Marmite, bulldogs, beefeaters and jellied eels. Christopher Bailey, the brand's charming design director, not only comes from the North, he still has a house near where he grew up in Halifax.

Mr Bailey was voted Designer of the Year in the British Fashion Awards in 2005, and his muse, Kate Moss, has appeared in every campaign since he joined the company in 2001. Together they revitalised a brand once seen as dreary and stagnant. Profits have boomed. Obviously Burberry has thought long and hard about its decision; the loss of 300 jobs in an area such as the Rhondda will be keenly felt. The closure, postponed several times, is now slated for March. Mr Bailey will be only too aware of the effect of pit and textile mill closures in South Yorkshire. Once jobs go, they rarely come back.

All this makes Gordon Brown's flirtation with Britishness quite nauseating, really. It is just more spin from a man who has never demonstrated that he connects with ordinary people in an emotional way. It is his department that has made the cost of production in this country so high, burdening workers and employers with hidden taxation and maximum bureaucracy. And don't tell me that all the fabulous clothes we are buying from Marks & Spencer (another great British brand) are made here; of course not. Neither are those in Tesco, Asda or Topshop. Gordon is only interested in a high-minded, ethereal view of Britain today, not the grisly reality.

Bailey designs beautiful clothes for a brand that is seen as truly British worldwide. The trouble is, soon only the actual drawings that he does will be made in the UK. The rest will be done somewhere where Gordon isn't running the economy.

Cheers, Kirstie, but the best way to health won't make you a million

I can't keep up with Kirstie Alley or her roller-coaster hormones. One minute the formerCheers and Look Who's Talking star is telling us how she couldn't care less about her figure, and that she's large and proud - to the extent of making a series called Fat Actress - the next she's popping up on Oprah after losing 75lb and posing in a bikini!

Last year, Kirstie became a spokeswoman for the Jenny Craig diet programme and has spent the past 12 months on a strict eating regime in order to appear on Oprah, a brilliant publicity coup for her sponsors. But why should we be interested in the warblings of a woman whose opinions about food and body image seem to coincide with whatever company is putting vast amounts of dollars into her bank account? I applaud anyone who embarks on a fitness regime that includes sensible eating and daily exercise, and I am sure that when she was eating 8,000 calories a day Kirstie was a deeply unhappy person.

But why is wearing a bikini some kind of ludicrous benchmark of happiness? I would have had more admiration for her if she had managed to lose all that weight without using supplements that cost money. The way to lose weight is walk more, eat less - it's that simple. But that philosophy is not going to earn me a million dollars.

Poppy pain

Why has poor Jon Snow been demonised for daring to have an opinion about wearing a poppy on television? I have taken part in a dozen shows over the past couple of weeks and on every occasion there seems to have been a battle to see who can wear their poppy in the most prominent position as some kind of badge of worthiness.

Soon we'll be putting poppies on at the start of September. I agree with Jon - television shouldn't be somewhere where you parade your charitable donations on your chest, no matter how worthwhile they are - from pink breast cancer ribbons to red Aids badges. Supporting these causes is a private decision, not a public club. And somehow it diminishes the poppy if it is flaunted as part of a costume on a bit of light-entertainment froth. I support all these causes without question, but I refuse to sign up to a "Me" culture that insists you flaunt it. If Gordon Brown is right about Britishness, then we are tolerant enough to allow people to remember in their own personal way, if they choose to do so, those killed in war.

The night that Leicester ran out of cheese sarnies

The Government is setting up new academies to train young people in the leisure industry - not before time. Last week I arrived at a theatre in Leicester to perform my one-woman show after a long drive. I was told by a surly young lady on reception that I couldn't have the sandwich and a glass of wine agreed in my contract "because we don't do food". After a frank exchange of views, I got my glass of wine from the bar and ate a horrible packet of nuts, musing in my dressing room (no toilet paper) that the operative at the ticket desk clearly thought she was doing me some kind of favour, not fulfiling a contract. Of course I could have just got back in my car and decided that I didn't fancy doing Leicester on an empty stomach - but I'm professional. Funny that.

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