Editor-At-Large: Hillary vs Barack is a thriller. Ken against Boris is just tawdry

In the US, the candidates galvanise and inspire. The contrast with London's mayoral rivals could hardly be more marked
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The Independent Online

What does it take to re-ignite our interest in politics? To stop thinking of politicians as a bunch of people who moan about their salaries and claim more in expenses than most ordinary working people earn in four years?

This is a story of compare and contrast. On the other side of the Atlantic is an epic battle between a tough woman and a charismatic black man almost two decades her junior. His impassioned speeches have galvanised thousands of young people into realising that their vote can make a difference. His youthful fan club relies on modern technology and social networking to get the message across.

Hillary Clinton is fighting the most physically gruelling campaign of her professional life, rising after three hours' sleep to meet car workers before they start work at dawn. She can't afford to miss one single opportunity to garner a vote.

She has cried very publicly when it mattered, and tells females in the audience "I have earned every wrinkle on my face", constantly emphasising her decades of experience of being at the cutting edge of power. He, on the other hand, looks to the future rather than the past, promising radical change, a new way of doing things.

We're not talking about policies here, but very different approaches to power. Now this closely run contest could continue all the way to the Democratic convention in August. The engrossing struggle for the Democratic nomination now dominates our news agenda – and who would predict the outcome?

Closer to home, the battle to become mayor of one of the most important cities in the world is a tawdry contest dominated by allegations of sleaze and racism. The choice between smug Ken and Boris the buffoon, with Brian Paddick a rank outsider, offers a threadbare choice. Ken Livingstone runs London like a fiefdom, surrounded by cronies, with legions of PR people hyping his every move. Boris is a policy-free zone with a new haircut. Paddick hasn't run anything except a police division.

New Yorkers chose Michael Bloomberg to run their city, a rich businessman full of ideas, bubbling with energy. We've got Boris, the bloke who cheated on his wife, admitted he once snorted coke, the former editor who thought Liverpudlians were wallowing in sentimentality and who has the social skills of a circus clown.

When the press revealed that Ken's adviser on race, Lee Jasper, had dished out grants to a small coterie of pals, and sent illiterate, smoochy emails to a married woman running an organisation which received £100,000 of public funds, talking of coating her in "honey glaze", Ken said the criticisms were racist.

As Ken sees it, to imply that one of his trusted (and highly paid) lieutenants might not be completely up to the job is to suggest that he, Ken Livingstone, is a crook or a fool. There's loyalty, and there's pig-headedness – and Ken falls into the latter camp.

Meanwhile, as MPs' expenses and allowances come under scrutiny, up to 70 have stopped employing family members. Funny, that. We discover that the House of Commons splashed out £52,000 (of our money) on appeals to the Information Tribunal, attempting to keep MPs' expenses a secret.

Finally, our Prime Minister sets a great example of democracy in action by choosing an unelected American millionaire as a special adviser, to be based in Downing Street. Jennifer Moses has a £10m house and didn't notice that £1m was pinched by her secretary from her personal account, so I'm sure she's au fait with the problems of ordinary voters. And MPs wonder why we find the US elections more gripping than the machinations of those in power here.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

Pity poor Posh – she's all effort and no impact

And what iconic female has Victoria Beckham decided to come dressed as this week? Is it Vivien Leigh in 'Gone with the Wind'? Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'? There was that terrible 'Teletubbies' outfit she wore to the Paris fashion shows, not to mention the Roland Mouret clinging frock, matching shoes and bag she thought was right (a touching tribute to Grace Kelly) for a football match – proving you can have just too much of one colour (pink) on a tiny person with a giant head.

When Posh puts on designer clothes, they seem to swamp her – designers worry about the "Posh" effect and whether she will harm their sales. Now she has made it on to the cover of April's issue of 'Vogue', her latest source of inspiration seems to be 1950s glamour inspired by Cecil Beaton's portraits of society beauties. Poor Victoria just works too hard at being fashionable, whereas the wonderfully daffy Agyness Deyn just oozes effortless style from every pore. This girl would look great in a bin bag – she has just been voted the best-dressed woman in a magazine poll, ahead of Kate Moss and Keira Knightley. On the Jonathan Ross Friday night show the other week Agyness looked amazing in a Vivienne Westwood ballgown. She's smart, and bright, just happy to be doing a job and getting well paid for it.

Agyness, in her bowler hats, men's shirts and braces, looks as if she has just flung on the contents of her laundry basket and come up trumps. Posh, who probably spends five hours a day inspecting herself in a mirror, never looks happy, but resembles an actress looking for a movie to star in. It could be a long wait.

What the butler saw: his chance to live it up

Once again, Paul Burrell demonstrates that, far from being a rock, he's got all the moral strength of a piece of balsa wood. Having made a complete fool of himself in the witness box at the Diana inquest in January, he boasted to a reporter from a tabloid newspaper that he hadn't told "the whole truth" and had planted a "few red herrings". Now he's refusing to return to Britain and tell the truth – something he might find psychologically impossible – and could face charges of perjury.

Burrell claims he found the experience of being cross-examined in court "horrid" and doesn't want to repeat it at any price. Clearly the former butler thought he was appearing on the legal equivalent of The X Factor, and perhaps a rose-tinted version of events might be good for the business he has made his millions from – flogging china, teapots and furniture inspired by royalty via the internet – if he can imply he's still carrying around a load of amazing secrets about his former boss.

What a fabulous role model for his two charming sons Mr Burrell is these days. His cosy batchelor life in Florida is about to be disrupted by a visit from his loyal wife Maria, clearly distressed at lurid stories in the press about his escapades in gay discos and nightclubs.

I love the odd night in a gay club myself – but I'm not putting myself forward as a keeper of royal "secrets".