Alice Jones: What Katie Price can teach the Oxford Union


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The Independent Online

There are a few things I did at university of which I'm not particularly proud, but near the top of the list is going to see Judge Jules speak at the Union. Why? I don't know.

Why did I leave myself two days to read Crime and Punishment? Why did I wear those trousers? Why did I have that last tequila? These are student riddles whose answers are lost in the mists of time.

The point is that the Oxford Union has always been as much about spurious celebrity as it has been about politics. When I was a student, for every rousing evening with Germaine Greer, there was a procrastinating afternoon with a trance-trousered Radio 1 DJ. When you've paid almost £200 for membership, it's a question of getting your money's worth. And for the thrusting, influence-hungry types on the committee, anyone who can proffer tips on world domination, in whatever form, is worthy of an invitation.

So I wasn't in the least surprised to see Katie Price, aka Jordan, make her debut in a packed chamber this week. Traditionalists were horrified at the sight of the glamour model-turned-empire sitting in the same leather-backed chair in which Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama and Malcolm X sat, and dispensing wisdom on fame, sex and being a "rich chav". It's dumb, but I'm not sure that it's dumbing down. The role of the Union is to allow students to ask questions of high-profile figures and to stoke a wider debate. Disappointing, though, that they didn't kit Katie out in a pink gown and matching mortar board.

Everybody knows that the real spectacle at Frieze Art Fair is not the paintings, but the people. Sure, there's some interesting work on show, not all of it on the faces of ageing millionaires, but on opening night I was more struck by the sensation that nobody really has a clue what's going on.

Glazed zombies drifted past shouty neons, hanging bananas and phallic towers, never quite looking at anything or anyone properly for fear of missing out on the real attraction. In one corner, the artist Michael Landy gave free drawings to anyone brave/stupid enough to hand over their credit card for "mulching" in his giant, juddering shredder. Who has the upper hand here – the collector with cash to splash, the artist gleefully mopping it up, or the sharp-suited dealer creaming off their cut?

The confusion continued at the after party. Downstairs at the ICA, people muttered that the proper VIP party was upstairs. Upstairs, in a half-empty room, the VIPs panicked that the real party was happening downstairs. The result? A staircase like a scene from a French farce as guests hovered tensely between floors.

Another party last night celebrated Art Review's annual Power 100. This year the magazine's list is topped by Ai Weiwei, only the second artist (after Damien Hirst) to be accorded the honour. There's something gloriously topsy-turvy about a man who spent 81 days in a Chinese prison this year for his outspoken work being hailed as the mightiest player in contemporary art. In a world where the concept of power is as slippery as an Anish Kapoor disc though, it makes a strange kind of sense.

The latest battleground for political point-scoring has been revealed: the glove box. This week, Michael Gove's Skoda was stolen, along with, we are told, his 28-CD set of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, the collected speeches of Ronald Reagan, Wagner's Parsifal, a Best of The Smiths and the Mumford & Sons album. Was he planning to move in to his car and never speak to another human being for all eternity? It reads like a Desert Island Discs parody of an Education Secretary's CD collection, spanning both the curriculum and the political spectrum.

In fact, so smug is the selection, a cynic might think the theft had been stage-managed. Except for one thing: the CDs you stow in your car are the ones you always intend to listen to but never do, aren't they? Which means that Gove probably passes the time in traffic jams listening to Radio 4 or Magic, just like the rest of us.