The other Kerry may find sinners are winners in the political jungle

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The Independent Online

A fortnight ago, when I started seeing headlines saying "Kerry set to take on Bush", I assumed the media had finally gone totally mad. How could the pundits imagine that the mewling former Atomic Kitten would emerge triumphant in the jungle, when it was clear that she would stomp out early and that John Lydon would win?

Actually, the headlines referred to the election of the Democratic US presidential candidate, a story I'd vaguely assumed wasn't very interesting because there was no one in the race except Howard Dean. It's quite a humiliation to be completely wrong about something you were completely wrong about anyway. But I'm consoling myself with the idea I might not be alone in wildly misjudging the development of this story.

The headlines now are as predictable as daffodils in spring. A sex scandal, the internet gossip alleges, threatens to engulf John Kerry's bid for the Democratic ticket. This alleged scandal, the Democrats rebuff, is a filthy right-wing smear. If it is a right-wing smear, then it's not a terribly good one. Frankly, sitting near Jane Fonda in the 70s may yet prove more damaging to the Vietnam veteran's bid. Despite the fact much is made of the source of this story being the website that broke the Monica Lewinsky story, nobody seems to have noticed the US public doesn't actually seem to mind that much about sexually incontinent politicians any more.

It is a long time since Gary Hart had to withdraw from the presidential race when he was found to have had an affair with a model called Donna Rice. Such a story may have been able to ruin a man back in 1987. But, come 1992, when Bill Clinton was accused of having had an affair with Gennifer Flowers, a rousing "stand-by-my-man" speech from his wife was all it took to kill the scandal.

The accusations of an affair with Ms Flowers later turned out to have been true, making President Clinton a liar as well as a cheat. But that was not enough to cause damage. She turned out as well not to have been the only woman the President had been unfaithful to his wife with, making him a serial liar and cheat.

By the time the Lewinsky scandal broke, it had become obvious that Mr Clinton was a serial liar and cheat who never, ever learned to keep his zip up but instead concentrated on honing the techniques by which he failed to tell the truth. None of that was powerful enough to dent Mr Clinton's presidency, so it is hard to see why a similar story is a threat to Mr Kerry.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger's experience is anything to go by, there may be some gains in Mr Kerry's alleged dalliance. Allegations of sexual impropriety seemed only to increase the appeal of the man who became a real-life terminator.

Since, until now, Mr Kerry has been portrayed as a boring man who has achieved little since Vietnam,except marriage to a very rich and intimidating wife, this so-called smear might be just the thing to persuade difficult voters that Mr Kerry is lad enough to be president after all.

The worst thing that could happen is that the accusation turns out to have been utterly groundless and planted by battle-hardened Democrats.

Battle of the bulge

Latest pictures of Britney Spears, apparently illustrates how she has been piling on the pounds. It is suggested the roll of unsightly fat hanging over her jeans, is the result of binge drinking.

This though, is surely the closest thing to a cover-up that Britney's midriff has ever been involved in. The truth is pretty obvious. The lass has been on the Fatkins diet, the weight-loss regimen that guarantees that your corpse will weight 18 stone.

A leaked coroner's report alleges Dr Atkins was clinically obese at the time of his death (even though photographs a few weeks before show him to be reasonably lissom). More conclusively, a Horizon experiment refuted the idea the diet prompts the expulsion of calories by "ketosis", after experimenting on dieting twins in sealed rooms and collecting all their wee for a month.

I refuse to believe Dr Atkins was deliberately taking the piss. As a former devotee - I lost two stones on Atkins - I'm certain the diet's effect is psychological. You're told it lets you eat as much as you like, as long as you don't eat sugar in any form. But all that happens is your calorific intake plummets without you noticing so much. If I could be bothered to turn this theory into a book, I would. Generously though, I'm going to leave that to Britney.

The police must pursue all motorists who speed

¿ It has been a sobering week for those keen to argue that the legal and political systems in this country are waging a war on motorists, which persecutes innocent drivers just because their piffling offences fill the coffers of Government.

These people - and there are many - claim the right to judge whether they should be allowed to speed, for example, and rail against cameras as some sort of assault on their civil liberties.

Heather Thompson was surely one such person. She used to boast about how she could do a long and complicated drive across her local countryside in a brief time, and was well known as a menace on the roads.

No one ever tackled her, though, for her behaviour, least of all the police who are supposed to target motorists so pitilessly. Perhaps they had no grounds to. Perhaps, like many people who habitually speed, she knew where the cameras were.

When Mrs Thompson finally crashed, she killed her daughter and her daughter's 12-year-old friend. Last week, she was sentenced to two years' jail for causing death by dangerous driving.

For many this seems harsh, pointless and cruel. Mrs Thompson killed two girls. She did not do so deliberately. Many think she has suffered enough.

The sentence is harsh and cruel - but it is not pointless. Speeding drivers cause the deaths of more children in the UK than anything. Just as drunk driving was once socially acceptable, so still is speeding. Until that is no longer the case, the law must pursue all who speed.

Have you got that?

BILL AND and Ben, Tony and Maggie, Persil and any other similarly priced washing powder - there is no shame in being unable to tell these pairings apart. But Ant and Dec? A poll this week revealed 70 per cent of the population were unable to identify which of half of the nation's most popular presenting duo was which. It seems perfectly clear to me. Ant's the personable boy-next-door, while Dec's the approachable guy-you'd-take-home-to-meet-gran.