Christina Patterson: The chilling threat of a nuclear stand-off

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The Independent Online

So, the man who speaks as though he has just completed an MBA module in "presenting to the board" – a course in which the business plan/targets/vision for the company are last-minute additions to the "speaking with passion and conviction" template – has the answer to poverty, crime and the myriad challenges of the welfare state. It's called– drumroll, collective squeak of chairs as bottoms shift in anticipation of standing ovation – the family.

Shrieks of orgasmic delight from the assembled throng as the man in the Paul Smith suit underlines the point with a striking visual image. PowerPoint's OK, but how much better if you can swap that slide for a real-life glossy, svelte (and handily loaded) wife? Sealed with a kiss. The future is bright, the future is youthful – and the future is married.

This, after all, is the man whose "WebCameron" (gosh, isn't he down there with da youf?) featured a clip of his frolics with Fairy Liquid, as a child cried in the background. Never, indeed, has kitchen sink drama been quite so literal. On this occasion, the child didn't actually appear. Perhaps he or she was insufficiently coiffed. But you don't want to cheapen your brand. No, save it (well, them, actually) for really important things like photoshoots in glossy mags where you can use it to sell posh pens or pink calfskin Bibles.

In a Newsnight interview in August, David Cameron told the programme's economics editor, Stephanie Flanders – who had begun her allotted stint by declaring that she, the mother of a "small child", was "not married" – that he had no intention of telling people how to live their lives. The St Pauls-Oxford-Harvard-educated journalist was not, in fact, an entirely convincing crusader for single motherhood, announcing in The Times a few days later that she had not yet got round to marrying her journalist partner, John Arlidge, as "buying a home" was a "more pressing" issue. Still, given the handicap of her conventional nuclear set-up, it was a nice try.

It's hardly surprising, of course, that the Conservatives should want a return to conservative values. If you want to fund tax cuts, then clearly it's better for families to foot the bill for life's little accidents (illness, disability, unemployment) than the state. And then you can announce – in a flourish that might save you an untimely election – that Middle England shall henceforth be allowed to feast unencumbered on the fruits of its parents' labours. As if that wild lottery known as the "housing market" were some kind of synonym for "hard work".

But, actually, it was Tony Blair who kick-started this fetish for the "hard-working family" – a term which cleverly implied that Chloe's clarinet lessons and Sam's skateboarding were noble contributions to the onward march of justice, progress and prosperity for all. Five-times-a-night Tony also played a key part in the trend for political uxoriousness. Whatever his failings (war in Iraq, flowery swimming trunks), he clearly loves his wife even more than a freebie.

And even the "bloke next door", the man who is currently our Prime Minister, managed, in the end, to get himself a photogenic dose of domestic bliss. Phew! Just in the nick of time. Brooding Weirdo With No Apparent Sex Life Gets To Run The Country. I think not.

Gordon Brown's transition from psycho-politaholic to smiling superdad has happened to coincide with a rhetorical shift from social justice to "British jobs for British people". He said last week that he still wants to make life better for "all children and all families". I hope he means it. It would, however, be nice if he, and Cameron, and all the other nuclear-ensconced politicians desperate for the votes of Middle England, would occasionally remember that nearly one third of the population of this country lives alone. And, in political terms at least, we're beginning to feel invisible.

Now that's what I call an alter ego

While many of us will have indulged in the occasional drunken bout of Who Will Play Me In The Film of My Life (Angelina or Nicole, ooh I can't quite make up my mind), it's not a problem that most of us get to grapple with in real life. Particularly those of us whose days in front of the screen are punctuated only by the odd biscuit.

Journalist-turned-bestselling-writer Blake Morrison has, however, joined the select group (well, perhaps just Nick Hornby) who actually get to see themselves played by thinking woman's pain au chocolat, Colin Firth, left. The film of his wonderful memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?, is out this week – and it's not at all bad. And yes, the masturbation scene is in it – but it's all, er, very tastefully done.

* In the light of an impending trip to Shanghai, I felt duty-bound to watch a Channel 4 programme earlier this week about the Great Wall of China. And "duty" it proved. I was, to use a word catapulted into common currency by the man who handed Hong Kong to the Chinese, gobsmacked. When did documentary turn into soap opera?

A Walking with Crouching Tigers for the 16th century, it was all utterly gorgeous – and utterly ridiculous. Interspersed with the talking heads of various historians were am-dram reconstructions of Emperors on golden thrones frowning fiercely after Mongol raids and men with pigtails and wispy beards giving speeches to peasants. But none of it quite lived up to the moment when the Emperor announced solemnly that the city's current defences were not "fit for purpose". John Reid's resurrection of a phrase hitherto used only in ancient health and safety manuals has now entered the annals of history. At long last, a legacy.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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