Editor-At-Large: Silvio, Tony and Co - excess all areas

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The Independent Online

Do you find it as ironic as I do that our leaders at the G8 summit next month will be discussing world poverty and debt at one of Britain's most luxurious hotels? Can someone explain to me the gradual process whereby ordinary politicians have gradually assumed all the trappings of European royalty? In the case of our Royal Family, the secret snaps taken by the tabloid reporter who posed as a footman revealed that HRH lives a private life far humbler than that of Tony, Dubya or Silvio. I doubt Italy's Mr Fixit breakfasts from Tupperware in his waterside palace with its own secret tunnel and helipad or that Mrs Bush would tolerate a simple one-bar electric fire in her palatial private quarters at the White House. And so, at the G8 meeting, an event that needs to send all the right messages about corruption and good governance to African leaders, prime ministers and presidents will be waited on hand and foot, with the added perk of a championship golf course just outside. There's the inconvenience of the

Do you find it as ironic as I do that our leaders at the G8 summit next month will be discussing world poverty and debt at one of Britain's most luxurious hotels? Can someone explain to me the gradual process whereby ordinary politicians have gradually assumed all the trappings of European royalty? In the case of our Royal Family, the secret snaps taken by the tabloid reporter who posed as a footman revealed that HRH lives a private life far humbler than that of Tony, Dubya or Silvio. I doubt Italy's Mr Fixit breakfasts from Tupperware in his waterside palace with its own secret tunnel and helipad or that Mrs Bush would tolerate a simple one-bar electric fire in her palatial private quarters at the White House. And so, at the G8 meeting, an event that needs to send all the right messages about corruption and good governance to African leaders, prime ministers and presidents will be waited on hand and foot, with the added perk of a championship golf course just outside. There's the inconvenience of the five-mile steel fence that has been erected around the premises to keep out protesters and Sir Bob Geldof's million marchers, but we're assured that it has been specially designed to "blend in" with the surrounding Perthshire countryside.

Tourism bosses claim to be thrilled with the G8's choice of Scotland as their venue, claiming it will bring in millions of pounds of extra revenue - but I doubt the benefits will be that great. Scotland in July is traditionally full of visitors anyway, and all that will happen now is that every hotel and bed and breakfast establishment within 20 miles of Gleneagles will be full of irritating journalists, civil servants and camera crews shouting into their mobile phones every hour of the day and night. Pubs may rack up a boom in Sauvignon Blanc and light red clarets as hacks while away the hours waiting for something newsworthy to happen, but local restaurants will be block-booked by people who never turn up to eat as they are called to the phone to deal with the demands of news desks thousands of miles away. Are these the kind of tourists Scotland really wants?

More importantly, how can we expect African presidents and prime ministers to deal with corruption and waste back home if the leaders in the West surround themselves with such unnecessary luxury and conspicuous consumption? Isn't it about time that our elected leaders decided to set an example, by stripping away the lavish rubbish they revel in - the banquets, the phoney photo-opportunities, the never-ending conferences, the private jets, armies of consultants, security staff, media advisers and minions. These events, from Brussels to Genoa, Gleneagles to Rome, are enacted as if those people were doing a really hard day's work instead of sitting around a table mouthing platitudes from predetermined positions. In a technologically sophisticated age they need not happen at all; the same result could be achieved via online conferencing.

Also, security risks because of the "threat of terror" are terrific excuses not to do anything that involves meeting ordinary members of the public, such as travelling on public transport. I guarantee it now - at the G8 in July Messrs Blair and Bush will pay a visit to a local pub, just as they did when Dubya decided to visit our leader's constituency the other year. It will be full of hand-picked "locals" carefully vetted by all the intelligence services, and they'll eat food prepared by their own chefs.

Meanwhile, Patricia Hewitt is planning her own three-day version of the G8 for fellow health ministers in October, block-booking every room in a luxury hotel in Hertfordshire at a cost of up to £900 a night. The total bill runs to hundreds of thousands of pounds and is being justified because of "security requirements". Can I suggest that the Tower of London is always available as a conference centre (I addressed a gathering there recently), and you don't get much more secure than that. Then every visiting minister could stay at their embassies and not at our expense and Ms Hewitt could even (shock, horror) sleep in her own bed.

Or there's Buckingham Palace - certainly invader-proof - I'm sure that Her Majesty would have been only too happy to let both G8 summits take place there, and Mr Bush could have popped down each day from his gorgeous ambassador's residence just a few minutes away. The gap between those who exercise power and those who vote for them is widening by the day, with disastrous consequences.

* * *

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opens on Tuesday, and I was lucky enough to be invited to a fund-raising cocktail party the other evening. It was hard to tell which represented the bigger disaster, the doodles on the walls or the truly bizarre range of frocks on display. I haven't seen so many fake-tanned legs since the last episode of Footballers' Wives. Room after room was swilling with tall, skinny bankers' arm-candy, wearing improbably skimpy lace frocks, no underwear and five-inch glittering sandals. I made the fatal mistake of popping on a vintage satin slip with a pair of flip-flops. These Amazonian harpies stared right through me - I might as well have been brandishing a copy of The Big Issue. They clearly felt I was an elderly bag lady who'd been let in by mistake. Art wasn't really their scene, as they ignored the pictures and inspected each new arrival for label quotient and jewellery provenance.

The art seemed almost tasteful in comparison, although I did find a pair of teddy bears brandishing power tools by the British sculptor David Mach so appalling that I'm surprised he wasn't nominated for the Turner prize. The Royal Academy opening is supposed to mark the start of what's laughingly referred to as the summer "season" in London, and the next event on the social calendar will be the tennis tournament at Queen's (I am attending, but not in flip-flops) this week, followed by Royal Ascot. Sadly for those fake-tanned Amazonian women in flimsy satin, Ascot this year is taking place in York, as the racecourse in Berkshire is being rebuilt.

I can't imagine that a cocktail dress the size of a pelmet and a pair of Jimmy Choos will offer any kind of protection against the climatic conditions Yorkshire residents know only too well. Last bank holiday weekend, we had gale force winds, sun, rain and clouds, all in the space of six hours. It's known locally as a "lot of weather" and you can never have too many layers in your rucksack. The last time I went to a summer race meeting at York, many women had sensibly popped on quilted anoraks over their silk dresses in order to stave off pneumonia. The result looked a little incongruous, but hey, better safe than sorry.

Meanwhile, one of the Queen's horses has won a voucher for two to stay in a local pub, the Nag's Head. I know that HRH likes the simple life - but maybe not that simple. Perhaps she should offer it to Tony and Cherie, should they wish to grace one of our premiere sporting events. It will certainly make a change from Gleneagles.

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