Saturday 7 March 2009
Deborah Orr: Brown should stop treading water and call an election
How does Gordon Brown keep going? How does he manage to get out of bed and face the troublesome day? What does he hope will happen to change the political weather in the 15 long months he intends to hang on as Prime Minister for?
His speech in the US this week suggested that his plan was to rebuild capitalism, in a greener, more equitable and internationally inclusive form. It seems cruel to point out that this is what he seemed to have in mind 10 years ago, to no great success. It seems rude to suggest that it's what David Cameron seems to want as well. And it seems an intrusion on private grief to draw the attention of both men to the fact that political power is on a bit of a lay-off at the moment, and that anyone who runs a government must be ruled, for the time being, only by economic exigencies.
There are still some commentators who support Brown. Yet even they cannot quite decide what he should do about "narrative". A few believe that he should come clean about his past misconceptions, admitting that he, and the New Labour project, was all about adopting Thatcherite ideas about wealth creation, so that they could get hold of some money for public services.
But that is a much riskier strategy than it might have been, since Labour's record on public service reform is not so very impressive. Labour never did get a grip on the social problems that had emerged during the previous Conservative administration, and its strategy now is to mock the Conservatives for daring to suggest that they continue to flourish. No doubt this suits the Conservatives perfectly well, as their own policies now are hardly discernable from those famous pledge cards that did so much to ensure Blair's victory in 1997.
We are in a period of political stasis. Labour is not happy with Brown as its leader, but can come up with no alternative. The Conservatives are no more inspired by Cameron. Though they cannot keep to their promises of cross-party co-operation during crisis, the Government and the Opposition both know they are taking part in an ugly and artificial battle. That's the real reason why the Commons could not face the farce of PMQs the other week.
Brown is a Prime Minister whose options are small and vanishing. The fact that his leadership has never been tested in "the court of public opinion" does not help at all. The most honest and helpful thing that Brown could do at present, is call an election, accepting that it is likely to result in a hung parliament.
A coalition government is the most suitable form of administration for Britain in the present period. One of Brown's early ambitions as Prime Minister was to form a "government of all the talents". What we need now is all hands on deck.
Blood, gore and bright white teeth
Stephenie Meyer has emerged as the most popular author on the planet, with books from her Twilight series topping most bestseller lists. She claims that the idea for her story came to her in a dream, and she's been churning out vampire tales for teenagers ever since.
Every generation of teenagers gets to have its own vampire stories. Ten years ago it was Buffy. Twenty years ago it was Anne Rice's Lestat trilogy. Thirty years ago, we made do with Stephen King, and 40 years ago there was no greater bliss than a Hammer Horror. King warned aspiring fantasy writers to stay away from vampires as they had been "done to death". Meyer, clearly, was not paying attention.
I know there's good case to be made for the fascination with vampires stemming from our understandable obsession with sex and death, or from the legend's handy ability to stand as a metaphor for parasitic human power relationships. But that doesn't fully explain why the US came to dominate the market. I tend to think that the teenage preoccupation with vampires has been strengthened by all the attention on American teeth once they hit puberty.
Meyer's dream popped into her head in 2003, just as the eldest of her three sons was approaching the age at which the orthodontist beckons. As a Mormon, Meyer must have been haunted by the dazzling example of Osmond grins. The poor lady had probably fallen asleep worrying about how she was going to make the dental bills.
Too much nagging and people switch off
*No one can accuse the Government of being responsible for the mess the big commercial television stations find themselves in. Expensive and elaborate broadcast advertisements trumpeting Whitehall's blizzard of initiatives are coming as thick and fast as ever.
In just a couple of hours in front of the telly on Thursday, watching the superb drama Red Riding, I was told that I'd regret it if I drove into a child and killed him, that I shouldn't sit about watching as my elderly relative had a stroke, and that I should recycle all my paper, card, tins and bottles.
Switching on the box these days is ever more like having Harriet Harman round to tea. So, come to think of it, everyone can accuse the Government of being responsible for the mess the big commercial televisions stations find themselves in.
The trouble with mothers and sons ...
*The writer Julie Myerson has requested that people might read her new book, The Lost Child, before passing judgement on her decision to write about her son's cannabis use. I fear that literary London is in no mood to listen to her plea. When I suggested a similar approach to a group of authors, there was a short, resentful silence, then a groan. "Oh my God," said one usually high-minded belle- lettrist. "I didn't know we were having lunch with Lionel Trilling."
*Jerry Hall, is a famous model. But she is also a famous former partner, of Mick Jagger, who is 14 years older than she is, and Bryan Ferry, who is 12 years older. Hall has just announced, further to taking part in a photo shoot that obliged her to cavort with a young man, that big age differences in sexual relationships are "creepy". Jagger, 66, is now stepping out with L'Wren Scott, 23 years younger then he is. Ferry, 63, is holding hands with Amanda Sheppard, 27, who used to date his son Isaac. None can deny that Hall knows whereof she speaks.
*Pin-up girl Nell McAndrew has told a supposedly shocked nation that she still breastfeeds her three-year-old. At The Independent we are harder to scandalise. My colleague Johann Hari once explained that his mother stopped nursing him only after he left her a note specifying the time of his next feed. My own sons are so reluctant to resort to the written word that I'd still be waiting for such a sign if I hadn't retired unilaterally when they were six months. I read that US researchers found that breast milk no longer had a beneficial part to play in a healthy mixed diet by the time a child was 11. McAndrew can only be commended.
*I'm intrigued by reports that the recession is stoking demand for thinner, more etiolated ties. Dear goodness, chaps, it's not the war. Cloth isn't rationed and this sort of sartorial adjustment doesn't help. The theory is that fat ties were for fat cats, and businessmen now want to advertise their sobriety. Really, they probably just want everyone to be able to see at a glance that they're still able to afford new stuff. Affluent women apparently respond to hard times by treating themselves to luxury lipsticks, not designer dresses. For their menfolk, it must be skinny neckwear, instead of yearly Porsches.
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