It has taken a while for some of the finest minds in the country to reach a conclusion that some of us have held for quite some time: that Nick Clegg is a bit of a Jeremy.
You only had to see the way he gazed at the camera during the TV debates, as if into the cot of little Franco (or whatever he's called) and to hear the way he kept repeating the names of the people who asked questions, as if he was trying to interest them in a timeshare in Torremelinos, to realise that this was a man whose word was worth – well, probably a lot less than his lovely kitchen.
On one matter, however, he did keep his word. He said before the election that he would, if necessary (and, boy, did he hope it would be necessary), go into coalition with whoever had the "biggest mandate" and, after leading Labour a merry little dance, that's what he did. If promises had to be tossed on a bonfire of inanities, then so be it. This was politics. This was power. And almost half of his MPs were in the Government!
You can certainly understand why students, and particularly those doing degrees in history at Cambridge who don't know what the Cenotaph is, and particularly those who were brought up to believe that a promise of a Savile Row suit meant you actually got a Savile Row suit, might be a bit surprised that a pledge signed by a bunch of politicians was worth no more than a new year's resolution to ditch the fags. But it's a bit hard to see why someone who has written books about the hypocrisies of religion, and who's been around long enough to see that politicians' promises have about the same weight as those little notes scrawled on the bottom of Christmas cards saying "we must meet up this year", should also claim to be poleaxed when a politician doesn't do what he said he would.
Jeanette Winterson this week joined Philip Pullman and Colin Firth in declaring their shock and disgust that a pretty right-wing politician turned out to be pretty right-wing. Philip Pullman, who clearly regards even the signing of a letter as an act of the utmost gravity, said on Thursday that he "never would have" added his signature to a letter of support for the Lib Dems if he had known they would form a coalition with the Tories. (In future, he might save himself the trouble of the mea culpas by looking up the words "big" and "mandate".) Winterson went even further. She wouldn't, she said, sign a letter of support again. "We need," she said, "a new party". She was, she said, "ready to organise".
I'm a big fan of Jeanette Winterson, and of Philip Pullman, and, like every other woman in the country, of Colin Firth, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that people who spend their life dreaming up imaginary worlds, and those who pretend, for the sake of a TV or film audience, that they're in those imaginary worlds, are, however good they look in wet muslin when emerging from a massive lake which, if we're being pedantic, wasn't actually in the book, are not necessarily the best people to organise political parties. They're not, if the truth be told (and I speak as someone who has spent quite a lot of time trying to organise writers), necessarily the best people to organise anything.
But you can't blame them for thinking they might be, when a cause, or political party, or charity, counts as nothing until it's sprinkled with the stardust of celebrity. It doesn't really matter what kind. A reality TV star would, of course, be perfect, being the product of the kind of democracy that has the populace engaged (and the liberal intelligentsia tediously atwitter), but, failing that, a model or an actor will do. Or, failing that, a writer of bestsellers. (Which means, Jeanette, that Pullman is a loss and you, to be brutally frank, aren't. The fact that the Lib Dem leader, and now Deputy Prime Minister, is a fan of literary fiction is not what pollsters like to call a selling point.) The Labour Party should have struck gold when it managed to garner the Holy Trinity of Duncan Bannatyne, J K Rowling and Eddie Izzard. The slight hitch was that the man who led it gave the unfortunate impression that a TV camera was, as for an Aborigine, an abomination of modern life that stole his soul.
This week, we've seen it again. It's possible, of course, that the very beautiful, and very rich, and very famous for her famous boyfriends, Jemima Khan would have been stumping up great wodges of cash for the cause of freedom of speech if the focus of all the fuss had been a whistle-blowing book-keeper from Hackney Council who looked more like Julian Assange's slightly toad-like lawyer than the man who Italian Rolling Stone named, perhaps in a moment of linguistic confusion, Rock Star of the Year. It's possible that the very beautiful, very rich, and very famous for her famous boyfriends, Bianca Jagger would have, too. But it's also possible that they did the calculations before making the deal. On the one side: beauty, money, glamour. On the other: "rock star" looks, a delicious sense of self-righteousness, and the aphrodisiac of massive, world-leader-embarrassing power.
Celebrity endorsements are a two-way transaction. You've just got to match the brand and the cause. Some celebs, offering glamour, seek gravitas. Others, offering gravitas (or Harry Potter, which isn't quite the same thing), seek a cause that might make them feel a tiny bit less guilty about the millions that have, for sometimes quite arbitrary reasons, come their way. But the rules are pretty clear. You can endorse a charity; you can even fund a little charity. What you can't do is give your millions away.
This week, Judi Dench was named by The Stage as "the greatest stage actor of all time". She was, she said, "completely at a loss for words". Now that's what I call a role model.
The macho tastes of would-be martyrs
It's amazing how much the two wannabe martyrs of the week have in common. Both handsome, both male, both utterly convinced of the rightness of their causes, and both horror-struck by the iniquities of the evil West, they were both, apparently, also enthusiastic users of dating websites. Julian Assange's profile on OK Cupid says that "Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane", which is always nice to hear, and that he likes "women from countries that have sustained political turmoil", which may explain why the trip to Sweden didn't go all that well. Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly's, on Muslima, says that he wants to meet a practising Sunni Muslim and "move to an Arabic country".
Some might regard this as a little greedy, since al-Abdaly already had a wife whose dazzling looks are a credit to the make-up company she runs. But a wife, it's clear even from a leader of the mosque in Luton he attended, is no big deal. Faced with the accusation that al-Abdaly's wife may have influenced his thinking on Islam, or indeed anything else, Farasat Latif was quick to swat the preposterous suggestion away. "I have 15 years of experience with extremists," said Latif, who's one of a medley of Muslim leaders from Luton who have been touting their calm good reason all over the media, "and I don't know anyone who has been influenced by his wife." "He wasn't," he added, "a weak man."
What I learnt from eating mince pies
It would be very nice to think that we were all fiercely independent creatures whose careful choices on matters aesthetic or culinary are expressions of an idiosyncratic soul. Very nice, but very wrong. When I recently decided that it was, perhaps, time to swap the bright blue plastic work surfaces and yellow tiles in my cupboard of a kitchen for something a little less like the Swedish flag, the thought suddenly struck me that those brick-like white tiles you find at Tube stations would work a treat. On peering in estate agents' windows, I discovered that everyone else in the country had thought the same.
In the past week, I've discovered an enthusiasm for mince pies that's dangerously close to an addiction. I've always thought they were pleasant enough as a slightly sickly festive treat, but this year I've realised that I massively underestimated that genius combination of succulent fruit and crumbling pastry. So massively that I keep nipping out to the Costa concession at work to make up for my former neglect. And now I read that the mince pie is making a "Christmas comeback", with record sales at Costa and elsewhere. We are, clearly, mere playthings of the zeitgeist.