Deborah Orr: An open note to Pauline Prescott... beware of Margaret Cook's advice

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The Independent Online

It is an odd specialism for a consultant haematologist. But Margaret Cook is undoubtedly the nation's foremost expert on sexually incontinent politicos.

There has for long years been a fairly rigorous system under which tales of the infidelities of MPs are unveiled. But in recent times, it has become something of an institution that a piece by Ms Cook should appear on day four.

It always recaps once more on her own walk-on part in the never-ending saga of political sleaze (dumped in VIP lounge by former foreign secretary Robin Cook, under instruction from Alastair Campbell, in favour of Gaynor Regan, his widow.)

Then it always explains why this experience has allowed her access to the inside of the heads of all women ever involved in romantic tangles of any kind. Usually, it also contains sideswipes at anyone who hasn't agreed with every word Cook has uttered since the marital breakdown launched her as what's now often called "a celebrity in her own right".

The latest wisdom comes in an open letter to Pauline Prescott, handily published in the Daily Mail, so that Cook's advice to the deputy PM's wife can be shared out among a few million others. Some of it is precious indeed.

Prescott is advised to ignore those members of "the sisterhood" who will "blame you for not keeping tabs on your husband, or perhaps keeping too many; for not reading the latest sex manuals or whatever fad comes into their heads". Sound advice. If there is a feminist in the world prepared to suggest that any woman should be putting any effort at all into sexually pleasuring John Prescott, why not just cull her painlessly instead, and do us all a favour?

She also sympathises about how awful it must be to have "thoroughly enjoyed all the privileges and perks of office - grace-and-favour mansions, brushing shoulders with royalty, chauffeured cars. How must you feel when you know that these have been extended to a predatory chit of a secretary?" Indeed. how much nicer it must be if your husband fancies, say, Condi Rice?

As ever, Cook emphasises that her own husband chose the chit of a secretary not for love or sex but because "there is one very big difference between your situation and mine, which is that John sees the salvation of his career in sticking with you. I hate to sound cynical, but John - like Robin - will consider what is best for himself and his political future, first and foremost."

Yet while Cook never stops saying what a deliverance the end of her marriage was - new career, new relationship, etc - she advises Pauline to "make him crawl" before forgiving him and spending the rest of her life "claiming her dues".

In my own open note, I ought to let Pauline know what some of Margaret's other pieces of advice have been. Tessa Jowell was wrong to dump David Mills. "Ultimately, Tessa is in danger of losing everything. What's new there? Women always end up paying when they compete with men in the power stakes." Since she's the only person in the Government who is not being asked to resign, the strategy seems to have played well for Tessa.

But my favourite is her comment on Kimberly Quinn and David Blunkett. "How galling it must be that all this power cannot bring him a woman of status and her offspring." Hmm. That must be why those ugly old politicians prefer to have it off with their predatory chits of secretaries, eh? Get over it, love. Your ex is dead and you're supposed to be happy again. So start acting that way.

A puerile desire for attention

The rapper Snoop Dogg attracted yet more of the "edgy" publicity he loves when he spent a night in prison charged with violent disorder and affray. He and his 30-strong entourage of huge bodyguard-types were refused entry to the VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport because most of them had business-class tickets. So they started smashing up the place, and were only stopped after 20 riot police had contained the situation.

The incident was immediately transformed into internet publicity for his film Boss'n Up, about to be released on DVD. "The film is ironically told from Snoop's prison cell, telling the story of his life in the fast lane as a pimp," reads an excited e-mail. "Unlike the golden prison bars and diamond crusted locks shown in the film, Snoop will be held in a West London police station. Let's hope that his lawyer will be as good looking as the honey in the film!"

I ought to forbear from suggesting that such glorification of misogyny, violence and general human ugliness is a powerful influence on young men, because that's what I always say, and I've clearly been sent the e-mail so I can say it again. But it is worth noting once again how much these people crave public disapproval, and what a sad psychological state of affairs that is.

The public grief of going private

I found myself, just as the nation tipped into one of its periodical paroxysms of fury about the NHS, experiencing private treatment for the first time. It happened almost by accident, as I was referred by my private dentist for a CT scan, and didn't even really understand what I was signing up to.

Anyway, a horrid leaflet arrived, telling me when my appointment was, with another paper accompanying it bearing the address I was to attend, because they'd forgotten to put it on the leaflet. The appointment, of course, was on the other side of London, at 9am, on the day my small children were to return to school after Easter. But anyone who has ever tried to change these appointments knows that therein lies madness.

Arriving on time, then hanging around for 20 minutes or so, I was intrigued to learn there was a call for me behind the reception desk. It was a lady - an administrative cog - explaining that she's only just been told there was a private patient waiting, that I couldn't be treated until she's seen me, and that she was about to go into a meeting. After another half-hour or so, she turned up, got me to sign, and then I waited for another 20 minutes or so.

By this time, the department had cleared. Everyone else had been treated and there was only me left. I would offer this tale up as a perversely proud one, displaying that whether you pay through your taxes or through your nose, you get the same demented service. Except that of course I was an hour or so late, but six months or so early as well.

So what's the moral: inefficient systems are inefficient, whether they're making a profit or not.

* Kaavya Viswanathan is a 19-year-old Harvard student accused of plagiarising her heavily marketed debut novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild And Got A Life. There is little doubt that chunks of it are virtually repeated from another popular novel. Viswanathan, left, is forced to defend herself with the excuse that "I wasn't aware how much I may have internalised her words."

The young woman may have got a lot of money for her book. But I can't imagine what it must be like for a teenager to face the disapprobation of the planet in this way. The adverse publicity was kicked off by fellow students, so clearly she is suffering from personal as well as public animosity. This is only to be expected in such a competitive environment as an Ivy League campus.

But even more shocking is the revelation that a book-packaging company was paid to help her "conceptualise and map out the plot". Those involved in this piece of market manipulation were no doubt aware that a bright and beautiful Indian teenager with an Anglo-American upbringing was a great concept too. No doubt she is the envy of many young people, who would very much like to have her problems. But precocious success has always had considerable pitfalls. To usher a young person so ruthlessly into commercial achievement seems callous indeed.

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