On Monday, in Tuscany, I read a letter from Tony Blair. "Dear Signor Dondoli," it said, "I just wanted to write and thank you very much for the ice cream that Father Jim delivered on your behalf. I understand you created this specially to honour my visit and as an expression of gratitude for my efforts for peace in Northern Ireland. This really is most kind, and I am very grateful."
Somehow, this little letter, framed and on the wall of the Gelateria di Piazza at San Gimignano, summed up so much of the Blair era: the charm (in great chocolatey vats), the achievements (considerable) and also the sheer bathos. This sugary accolade (pistachio, chocolate and crème anglaise, according to Signor Dondoli) may have been one freebie that the Blairs didn't seek out, but even my delicious crema di mandorla couldn't quite wipe out the memory of our Prime Minister hob-nobbing with a bandannaed Berlusconi fresh from the plastic surgeon's knife.
Nowadays, Tony Blair is about the same colour as Berlusconi. He has the lean mien and sheen of the super-rich. And if he hasn't yet had plastic surgery, he can certainly afford it. In three short years, he has earned at least £15m. He acquires jobs at about the same rate as Berlusconi acquires sex scandals and this week added another, in Silicon Valley, to his posts in Wall Street, Zurich and Kuwait.
What isn't clear, as he jets from JP Morgan to the Al-Sabah family in Kuwait (yes, both the Emir and Prime Minister have the same surname, now isn't that a coincidence?) and then on to shoot the breeze with the cool doods in California, is what happens to his accent. What happens, in other words, to the glottal stops? For if Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould were, with Blair and his room-mate Brown, the chief architects of New Labour, Tony Blair was the chief architect of that amazingly irritating phenomenon, Cool Britannia.
It now seems a lifetime ago, all that Oasis at Downing Street, all that Sensation, all that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. And all that mockney. At the moment when the nation acquired a prime minister who'd wanted to be a rock star, a prime minister who, as Neil Kinnock reminded us this week, was "a method actor", we all became actors, too. Wanting to be part of this brave, new, meritocratic, youthful, and oh-so-hip world, we all started dropping our Ts and our Hs, stretching out our vowels into a new language called Estuary, and generally implying that we too had propelled ourselves from the cradles of our sink estates to rock stardom, or married-to-Madonna-dom, or acolyte-of-Saatchi-dom, or, less starrily, web designerdom.
(Well, I didn't, actually. The rougher the neighbourhoods I lived in, the posher my already embarrassingly posh, mimicked-from-a-mother-who-learnt-English-as-a-foreign-language, accent became. Once, a woman at my bus stop couldn't believe I was local. "Wiv a voice like that!" she shrieked. I smiled bravely. Weighed down with Scottish Presbyterian and Swedish Lutheran genes, a "voice like that" was, I felt, the cross I had to carry. To adjust it would be – well, it would be to lie.)
And now Downing Street, and the House of Commons, and the Today-listening bedrooms of this country, and the news-watching front rooms of this country, are echoing with voices that make mine sound like a scullery maid's. These, as we all know, are the voices of the English upper and upper-middle classes, the classes who think, as David Cameron said of his wife, that going to a "day school" makes you "very unconventional".
There are various brands – prosperous Home Counties à la Cameron, 1930s Mayfair à la Rory Stewart, metropolitan global à la Nick Clegg – but the timbre is universal. It's called confidence. Gobsmacking, breathtaking, awe-inspiring confidence. These young men have just announced policies that will change the lives of millions of people, and they sound no more troubled than if forced to choose between eggs or kedgeree.
The men currently dismantling the big state and trying to replace it with youth clubs and coffee mornings are utterly at ease in their Gap sweaters, their gorgeous kitchens – and their skins. In their forced marriage scraped past the post, they have a hundred times the confidence of Blair with his landslide. And they won't resort to acting because they won't see the need to. Take us as you find us is the general view. But of course you'll like us. How could you not?
This government, as the Queen could have said on Tuesday, will be good for diction. It will be good for vowels. It will be bad for glottal stops. And if, in place of the mass hysteria unleashed by a prime minister's careful tears over the death of a "people's princess", it manages to reintroduce a few stiff upper lips, then that might be good, too. Every cloud has a silver lining. Or do I mean a silver spoon?
It takes more than this to stop the testosterone
Obviously, it's not at all funny that gazillions of tons of oil are exploding into the Gulf of Mexico every second, and that ecosystems are threatened, and fish are dying, and birds can't spread their little wings because they're all clogged up with sticky stuff (though they have, it's true, proved strangely camera-shy), but it would surely take a heart of granite not to be mildly entertained by some of the drama surrounding it.
First, there was Tony Hayward, the BP chief executive, telling the world that it was a lot of fuss about not very much, a drop, in fact, in the ocean. (I'm not quite sure what the word for that is. Sangfroid? Chutzpah? Breathtaking bad manners?) Then there were the Heath Robinson attempts to plug the hole. And then there was the testosterone. Gallons of it, leaking out into the world: Obama letting those pesky Brits know who's boss and changing the law so that their liabilities would go on for ever; Pat Campbell, a kind of horse-whisperer for oil wells, explaining that it was all about telling the well, "I'm touching you, I'm telling you you're dead"; Obama finally losing his cool: "Plug the damn hole!" It's the perfect metaphor for the global economic crisis. They came, they screwed up, they strutted, they haemorrhaged millions, but still the damn thing spewed.
Fergie goes on Oprah: can't wait for the car crash
The Duchess of York is clearly a very silly woman. Unable to sell her grandmother, or indeed her former mother-in-law, she offered instead the consolation prize of her former husband. Like so much else in her life, it all went a bit pear-shaped. After telling a group of children on Monday that she "hates grown-ups", she has now agreed to a grand mea culpa next week on – you've guessed it – Oprah. The challenge, as Cameron, Merkel et al could tell her, is to keep the markets steady.
Her daughters have, apparently, been bombarding her with supportive messages. And even the cargo in the transaction is said to have forgiven her. "Member of Royal Family has heart of gold" shock horror. Even if he's not quite worth his weight in it.Reuse content