We've been taken in by a plunging neckline

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The Independent Online

They don't tell you on the packet. If they told you on the packet you wouldn't buy. Smoking is the obvious exception, where the clear warning on the packet that smoking kills is, if anything, an inducement, deferring the inevitable and in the meantime adding to the drowse of defiance. I've smoked and know its existential allure. One inhalation and you're the hero of your own film noir, careless of your fate.

They don't tell you on the packet. If they told you on the packet you wouldn't buy. Smoking is the obvious exception, where the clear warning on the packet that smoking kills is, if anything, an inducement, deferring the inevitable and in the meantime adding to the drowse of defiance. I've smoked and know its existential allure. One inhalation and you're the hero of your own film noir, careless of your fate.

No such feeling of transgression, though, in applying sun cream that offers to protect you from the sun when it doesn't. Or in watching blithering stupidity on BBC2 (last week's blither, Essential Byron) that claims to be exploring poetry when what it's actually exploring is the presenter's cleavage. Maybe you'd buy the cleavage before the poetry, in which case BBC2 could be said to be practising self-restraint in its advertising, but either way you're not getting what they tell you you're getting.

And then there's Tony Blair's New Labour. Where does it say on that packet that the invasion of peace-loving nations, a health service for the rich and education beyond the means of the working-classes are what's on offer?

Liars, all of them? Or, to employ the cute demagoguery of the peace movement, Bliars?

I hate peace movements. Chalk that down as a failure on my part. A pacifist must have interfered with me in my pram. In my defence, I think what I really mean is that I hate peace demonstrations. They frighten me. Even when they are themselves peaceful, they are not. They are the expression of mob feeling, however well behaved and well meaning the mob. I think you should ask yourself something the minute you find yourself in a procession of more than one: I think you should ask yourself how you can possibly be right. Six million Frenchmen, and all that, for ever in the wrong by virtue of their number. Make sure you are never in agreement with anybody, that's my advice. Stay home and light a cigarette. That way you will die lonely, but as like as not holding correct opinions.

No one told me last week's anti-war march was even on. From which I deduce that the organisers are picky who they have along. No existentialists wanted, clearly. So if I hadn't been by chance buying white tea in Fortnum and Mason's I would have missed it. But there you are. Though it's not an existential thing to say, a higher hand controls our actions after all. By which I don't mean Tony Blair's.

Bliar, Bliar!

It turns my stomach, all that. Clever, I don't deny. And as a rule I like anagrams, especially those which discover the deceit lying latent in the letters, such as "Cheap Cream" in "Peace March", or "They Wouldn't Know If Their Arses Were On Fire" in "Stop the War Coalition". But the charge of liar - Bliar! - falling pat from the lips of however many thousands of marchers (charmers) is not pretty. Even were the accusation demonstrably true it would not be pretty. Chanting is morally ugly. It means to shout down and shut out. It is the expression of made-up minds, a form of bullying, however much those doing it are expressing their frustration at having themselves being bullied.

And it is a species of mass indoctrination. This, and this only, is the truth. Blair is a liar, full stop. Try walking into the march in the opposite direction declaring, "No, he isn't!" and see how open to persuasion they'd be. I thought about it for a split second then worried for my white tea. And I also saw the argument for respecting the marchers' space. Even the misguided must be allowed their say. Which is not, I think, the position they hold.

In a march there are no individuals. Whatever they declare and no matter how sincerely they declare it, marches exist to crush individual opinion. In this way they are no less despotic than the most despotic of regimes. That sometimes only the despotism of the mob can overturn the despotism of the dictator, I do not deny. But I doubt that even those chanting "Bliar!" believe we are living under a dictatorship.

Give it time? Rubbish. In truth what we've got is what it always said on the packet. New Labour. Meaning forget the old stuff, the old stuff no longer sells. Idealism tempered with realism, that was what we were offered, and we took it knowing full well - else we were fools - where that was going to leave idealism. In a curious way the blunders over Iraq actually look more like blunders of idealism than realism, and if we have a complaint it should be this: "It said on the packet that you had your head screwed on, Prime Minister. We had reason to expect a little more hard-nosed cynicism from you."

Not so much "Bliar!" as "Pietist!"

But pietism, or even gullibility, are not deceit. Deceit is when a telly programme that begins with the words "What's really important about Byron is his work" is barely through its titles before its presenter, Daisy Goodwin, is telling us - décolletée and with her lips empurpled - that "I have had a crush on Byron since I was about 13". What followed - the presenter's hair coming down like a librarian's in heat, the gown getting lower with every new piece to camera, the lips becoming more engorged, and the location more and more salacious, now a couch with candles burning all around, now the seashore, presenter gowned like the French Lieutenant's Woman, and now a bubble bath - might have been intended to be hilarious if only one could have worked out what it was being hilarious about.

Seriousness itself, was that it? The idea of talking about literature anywhere but a bubble bath?

"I wish I'd met him," was Daisy's summation, still mindful that what was really important about Byron was his work, then with what might have been a kiss to camera, she was gone.

What says the packet? BBC2, a channel providing fare for grown-ups? Bliars!

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