Alistair Beaton: 'Tony wants us to nuke Iran. Get the launch codes'

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The Independent Online

The best banner I saw on Thursday's demonstration against Bush in London was "Let Our Poodle Go". This runs a close second to the placard seen by a friend of mine during a march in New York. It read: "What is our oil doing under their desert?" Then there are all the carefully understated, very British protests. "Down With This Sort of Thing" said one banner during the anti-war march last February. "Bush is not very nice", declared the poster of a Sedgefield resident on Friday.

Such flashes of subversive wit come as a relief during the dull business of trudging through the streets in order to make a point. As the sixth peace march in a year went past Downing Street last week there were the usual cries of "Tony, Tony, Tony - Out! Out! Out!" How depressing. If the anti-war movement can't come up with anything wittier or more trenchant than a revised version of the ancient "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie - Out! Out! Out!" then I fear for the future.

Some light entertainment was, of course, provided by the Bush-Blair press conference at the Foreign Office. Anxious not to miss a precious word of the world's most renowned Christian double act, I logged on to the White House website and downloaded the transcript. I found Blair introducing Bush to the press with the words: "It's my pleasure to ask you to address this simple gathering."

I blinked, and looked again. Surely nobody in their right mind could describe a heaving mass of hacks at the Foreign Office as a "simple gathering"? I assumed Blair must be feeling the stress of having his tummy tickled 24/7 by the most powerful man on Earth. I checked back with the video of the event.

What Blair actually said was: "It's my pleasure to ask you to address the assembled gathering." Then I realised the truth: the Americans don't know what Blair is talking about. The whole basis of the relationship is incomprehension. This may not bother you, but it scares me half to death. We keep being told that Bush listens to what Blair says. What if one day Blair is on the phone telling Bush about his troubles with Carole Caplin and admitting he "took one look and ran" and Bush turns to his advisers and says, "Tony wants us to nuke Iran. Get me the launch codes." On the other hand, maybe some transcript guy in the White House simply looked at "assembled gathering" and decided to clean up the Prime Minister's tautologies. (There were quite a lot of these. Did you know that terrorism is responsible for terrorist attacks?)

The President had a few striking turns of phrase, too. Not the traditional howlers, but some bizarre metaphors. He invited us to view al-Qa'ida's organisational structure as "a kind of board of directors". This board has an "operating management," which we are "dismantling". Amazing. Soon we'll hear that the CEO of al-Qa'ida has taken early retirement with a compensation package and several million in share options.

Earlier in the week I experienced a glorious colliding of art and reality when I went by train from London to Birmingham to see David Hare's play, The Permanent Way. This trenchant work deals with the privatisation of Britain's railways, and the night I was there a packed house at the Birmingham Rep greeted it with fierce enthusiasm. The problem was, I couldn't bring myself to spend a sum of money resembling a lottery rollover win for a journey with Virgin Trains. Not even for a play directed by Max Stafford-Clark. Yes, I suppose I could have opted for a slower journey with another rail company, or I could have booked my ticket in advance and saved quite a lot of money, but there we are, I left it to the last minute and what's a train for if you can't leave it to the last minute? As a result, I went by car, spending much time on the M6 and almost missing the performance. The Permanent Way comes to the National in January. Get yourself in the mood - go by train.

Shocking news about a man who got inside the Daily Mirror and was given the free run of their offices. Apparently he's called Piers Morgan. There's some doubt as to whether anyone checked his credentials for the job. A member of the board of directors just rang up The Ivy and asked if anybody had heard of him. Well, Michael Winner had. And that's how Piers got the job. Shocking.