Editor-At-Large: It's poverty, not polygamy, that kills

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The Independent Online

I've never met Sally Bercow, but my nickname for this self-important female is an abbreviation of her surname. The Speaker's wife is proof that the twittersphere is a la-la land nurtured by the mindless musings of individuals you wouldn't let through the front door, let alone into your email. As we live in a democracy, it's up to voters whether to stick a cross by Sally Bercow's name when she stands for Labour in the local elections on 6 May. Frankly, I'd rather spend the day eating dog poo.

In her role as Speaker's spouse, Sally attended the State banquet for President Zuma at Buckingham Palace last week, and on Thursday her husband hosted the South African leader's visit to the Palace of Westminster. An over-excited SB twittered, "President and Mrs Zuma are here later... pretty sure it's the same Mrs Zuma I met last night... if it's not the same Mrs Zuma, I'll feel as if I am being disloyal to the one I met." If that's what passes for humour in the Bercow household, then it's a good job Mrs B isn't writing the Labour election press releases.

She's not the only person making dubious cracks about the Zumas. Polygamy, if it involves a black leader, seems to bring out the worst in the Brits. Middle-class liberals suddenly go into meltdown and become narrow minded moralists. Mr Zuma has been accompanied on this trip by Thobeka Madiba, his third wife, and when commentators haven't been making patronising remarks about her size they've managed to frequently refer to Mr Zuma's two other wives and 20 children, as if we're enduring a visit from the South African branch of a dodgy religious cult.

I am no apologist for Mr Zuma, whose view on Aids are repugnant, whose election was controversial and who has been accused of rape and corruption. While he was cosying up to the Queen and hanging out with Mr Brown, the police back home were busy beating up demonstrators campaigning for free further education for the poor: there is high unemployment and widespread poverty.

But just because Mr Zuma isn't "our" kind of politician, does that give us the right to opine on his marital status? Quentin Letts of the Mail thought he was auditioning for a part in a panto, shouting, "Would you recommend polygamy to Mr Brown?" at the South African President, outside No 10. There are a lot of questions we need to ask Mr Zuma, but polygamy isn't top of my agenda. Help for Aids victims, better housing and jobs for the poor, eradicating corruption and providing decent medical care are more important than whether a man has one or 101 wives. Focusing on polygamy is pretty racist, treating the black man as driven by sex. Even The Independent wrote, after Mr Zuma visited a branch of Sainsbury's and was given a goodie bag of chutneys and jams, "Let's hope there was enough to please all the wives back home."

Because Mr Zuma is the first visiting head of state to deign to include a trip to a supermarket in his schedule, commentators implied that here's a bloke of simple tastes. If he'd asked to stroll around the British Museum, it would have passed without comment. Of course, polygamy becomes more acceptable if you're the kind of leader the Brits need to suck up to. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for example, has at least five wives, seven sons and 15 daughters. Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai has several wives and 19 children. And the King of Bahrain has more than one wife. But when it comes to polygamy, Mr Zuma might be a Zulu, but he's not an acceptable caste to the British media folk.

What's ironic is that marriage in the UK is less popular than ever and we have the highest level of divorce, since records began. So maybe there's something in this polygamy lark.

We were active kids, the Kray twins and I

Sign of the times - the police records of arch-villain Ronnie Kray turned up recently in Durham. Under the section of his personal file describing his occupation, the following extraordinary range of pursuits was listed: club owner, dog breeder, labourer, soldier, billiard hall keeper and - the most bizarre of the lot - wardrobe dealer.

These Steptoe and Son style occupations have completely vanished from modern Britain, to be replaced by new jobs like personal trainers, management consultants and lifestyle experts.

The difference between the austerity of the 1950s, when the Krays were at school, and life in schools today was highlighted last week when the government announced that over a million pounds was being spent on "lifestyle coaching" for 20,000 overweight primaryschool pupils. Any judged to be"not confident in PE" will be offered yoga, cheer leading, break dancing and martial arts in their lunch hour and after school.

In the Krays' (and my) day, you had something called Music and Movement which involved running around the assembly hall in navy blue knickers. Of course, this new initiative will be a complete flop as it only lasts a paltry hour a week and is another burden for hard-pressed teachers.

I've said it before: the only way to deal with obesity is to teach cookery at primary schools, and compulsory daily exercise.

Back British farmers, not planes

I realise that criticising Saint Delia is the modern equivalent of blasphemy, but I'm not signing up to the fan club. There's something slightly sanctimonious about Delia in herprimwhite pin-tucked shirt pocketing a nice big cheque to appear in TV and print ads in a new campaign for Waitrose.

The woman who taught the nation how to boil an egg has been teamed with Heston Blumenthal as "food ambassadors" whose mission is to encourage us to cook from scratch. Don't ask me why food needs an ambassador - and let's not forget, this is the same woman who wrote a book promoting tinned and frozen ingredients.

Her website features an "advertising promotion'" for New Zealand lamb. Not exactly flying the flag for hard-pressed British farmers, Delia? I'd rather eat lamb that's local and hasn't been brought half way around the world.

From A to B is the new religion

Is "journey" the most over-used word of the moment? Tune in to any prime-time telly from X Factor to Strictly Ballroom, and everyone's on their own personal journey. Once upon a time, we tried to do our job at work, we set ourselves tasks, we had hobbies which we either succeeded at or gave up. Now, we're on a journey.

Which is why, presumably, Tony Blair's autobiography, due out in September for the princely sum of £25, is to be called The Journey.

That's to distinguish it from the more basic journeys we've enjoyed with Heather Mills on ice or our fabulous winter Olympic gold medallist on her tin tray. Tony's letting it be known that his Journey has a capital J and is the most important story of the 21st century.

He even looks like a new age guru on the bloody cover, in his midnight blue shirt with the top button undone. I won't be buying it.