Alexi Sayle: I was right, but why can't I feel smug?

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The Independent Online

As you probably haven't noticed I've been away from these pages for quite a while; that's because a few months ago I got offered this great new job as a consultant. I've been putting together a portfolio of property in the depressed mining areas of South Wales, buying Eurotunnel shares just before they crashed and investing huge amounts of money in Equitable Life pensions, all for the pop singer Badly Advised Boy.

Badly Advised Boy's people gave me the job because they'd been following my writing and public statements during and after the war in Iraq and they got the idea that I was infallible. They got this idea because during that whole conflict every single thing I said or predicted was true or has come true and any columnist or personality or politician who took any other view to mine has been shown to be utterly and totally wrong.

As I said at the time the Government lied; Tony Blair lied; the French and the Germans were right and war was wrong; there were no weapons of mass destruction; the US and Britain were never going to take any notice of the UN and planned to invade all along; there was no link between Saddam and al-Qa'ida; Israel would never make peace with the Palestinians unless forced into it by the US; the aftermath of invasion was going to be a complete catastrophe and Jack Ryder and Kym Marsh from Hear'Say's marriage was never going to last.

I wrote all these things and I have never ever in my life been demonstrably right before but I was this time, hah, hah, hah, hee, hee, hee, up yours Peter Hain sitting there on Newsnight looking like a roast turkey and lying your head off hah hah hee hee.

So why don't I feel better, happier, taller? Who'd have thought ravening triumphalism and Wagnerian joy in the degradation of others could leave you with a hollow, sour sensation, but it seems to. My ambiguous feelings may also be connected with the fact I've been back in the limelight a little bit recently, plugging my new novel Overtaken.

Once upon a time this would have made me totally happy - getting written about in magazines, being on the TV and radio. But now all I get is a sense of unease. For example, if you live in London my face will have been following you around for the past few days because I'm on the front cover of this week's Big Issue. Once upon a time I would have liked this but now I'm just worried. As it's a magazine homeless people sell to try to lift them out of the poverty trap they are in, if my face stops them selling as many copies as they do usually then they'll fall behind on the payments of their housing association bedsit and be evicted back on to the street and it'll all be my fault. This is not idle paranoia on my part: my newsagent told me when I was on the front cover of FHM - in the days before they started putting naked women there - that he'd never had to return so many copies.

More than that specific worry, though, you realise being in the limelight means you're in play; the media's attention is drawn to you and then stuff gets written in ways you can't control; people make unkind comments; things you say are distorted and misrepresented. I mean, I've been plugging the book for only four days and I'm in "Luvvies" in Private Eye and involved in an unpleasant furore with my local paper.

Christ knows what it would be like if I were a politician. I mean, in the end I'm all right because I have a solid intelligent fan base. I have many interests outside the entertainment business and I have my sandwich bar. However, politicians are people whose entire sense of self-worth is solely wrapped up in their careers: without the power and respect that go with their position they feel they are nothing.

They have struggled their whole working life and done all kinds of awful, devious and humiliating things to climb to the point they are at, knowing how precarious their current tenure is. Really, it's no wonder in such an unforgiving media climate that they conspire to blame anybody but themselves and lie, cheat, squirm, connive.

I wonder sometimes if it wouldn't be better to go back to the 1950s or before when the media was far less intrusive and personal in its treatment of politicians and celebrities. In the 1930s newspaper articles were written in a code that only those in the know could decipher. The Daily Mail might write, "Though the King was as radiant and insightful as a Greek God descended from Mount Olympus while speaking at the opening of the Pitlochrie Highland Games last Tuesday we might venture that his top hat was perhaps not quite as shiny as on previous occasions," which the literate elite would understand to mean the paper was actually saying "we need to do something now about our ruler being a deranged Nazi nutjob who's shagging a maniac", while the ordinary folk would simply take the piece at face value and go without food for a week so they could send thousands of tins of "Dr Kissinger's Patent Hat Shiner and Liver Tonic Solution" to Buckingham Palace.

Similarly if the same genteel rules applied now, Heat magazine instead of being full of leery gossip would have features such as "top TV comedian Graham Norton poses in the grounds of his lovely Chertsey home accompanied by his devoted wife, the romantic ladies' fiction author Jeanette Winterson, who is currently working on a book of recipes for party snacks using only liver and aspic. 'I always try to look good for my man,' says Jeanette..."

Then maybe if they weren't under such an unforgiving spotlight politicians such as Hoon and Blair wouldn't be such evasive, wriggling, prevaricators ... no, come to think of it, they probably still would be.

Howard Jacobson is away

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