Melanie McDonagh: Knickers and wig ... could a man get away with it?

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The Independent Online

almost all of the obituaries, you get the same compliments to her informality, her warm, hands-on manner and her plain speaking. And indeed, in my own couple of meetings with her, I found her frankness flattering and disarming.

I wonder whether those attributes don't seem more attractive in death than they did at the time. Those spontaneous gestures - pulling a big pair of knickers out of her handbag, or tossing her wig into the corner during a fraught meeting during the peace process were amusing the first time. Repeated, like the wilful naughtiness of a child, they lost both shock-appeal and charm.

And the famous directness - how would it have come across not from a blonde feminist, but from a man? John Prescott is blessed with a reputation for plain speaking but, funnily, no one says how refreshing his bluntness is.

People are now citing, as proof of her niceness, her habit of calling half the people she met "love". It was engaging, but when my elderly uncle recently called a woman he was phoning at the local council "dear", as he does reflexively, the wretched girl bit his head off. In the Australian parliament, there is a lively debate about whether "G'day mate" as a greeting from the security staff is egalitarian or off-putting. Mo Mowlam was an Australian in spirit, but I'm not sure anyone else could have got away with it.

And what about that - to me, intolerable - little episode in which she boasted, as her contribution to modernising the Northern Irish male, that she sent her personal protection officers to the shops to buy her tights and tampons? How would that gesture have looked if the sex roles had been reversed? If John Reid, or Peter Mandelson, say, had sent a female protection officer to buy - only joking, mind - condoms, would they have got away with it?

However amusing her occasional bad language was, I'm not sure whether it would do politics good if we equated vulgarity with sincerity. When Oona King, the ex-MP for Bow, for instance, was interviewed before the election, her language was peppered with expletives. No doubt she, too, thought that bluntness was an attractive trait - but without Mo Mowlam's charisma, it just seems rude.

Mo Mowlam was an attractive and intelligent woman, and one of the politicians who made new Labour almost irresistible in 1997. Her legacy is considerable - but it is not unjust to say that some of her attributes don't bear imitation.

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Happy days. Sven Goran Eriksson, the England coach, has been caught out making overtures to Miss Faria Alam again. She is the FA secretary who took the organisation to court last year for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal, after news broke of her affairs with a couple of its executives, notably Mr Eriksson himself. On one occasion, apparently, they were romping (I believe that's the term) in a four-poster, when he was on the phone to his long-term girlfriend, Nancy Dell'Olio. Two things occur to me. One is that the evidence for Mr Eriksson's renewed interest in Miss Alam comes from a record of his mobile telephone conversations which somehow fell into the hands of The Sun. Since most of the disclosures about Miss Alam's affairs last year came from leaked emails, this means that the two most useful means of modern communication can now be considered unsafe for philanderers. Which makes you wonder, how is a love rat now to function? The second is this: Mr Eriksson's only consistency in terms of women is his ability to move effortlessly from one short-term liaison to the next. Miss Alam may be making the common mistake that if a man is as plain as Mr Eriksson, and as dull, he is likely to be faithful and sincere. She should, by now, know better.

Did anyone else's heart sink at the twin announcements that: a) a Hollywood company financed by Liz Hurley's love-rat ex, Steve Bing, is to make a film of the Old English epic, Beowulf, and b) Angelina Jolie is to have a starring role? I need hardly remind readers that the epic, memorable for its underwater fights between the hero, Beowulf, and the monster, Grendel, does not have many upfront female parts. Which means that she'll probably be down to play Wealhtheow, Hrothgar's queen. If her representation of Alexander the Great's mum recently is anything to go by, a role in which she was far more formidable than Alexander, she'll probably steal the show. Certainly there'll be a lot of her moving around the benches with the warriors, handing out the mead cup in a sinister way. My own preference would be for her to play Grendel's mother, who also fights with Beowulf. At least she was meant to be scary.

Depressing news that so many childminders and nurseries inspected by Ofsted, the education inspectorate, fell short of the grade? Fewer than half the childminders looked at were considered "good", the highest accolade available. It occurs to me that, although most of us parents would probably get short shrift from the Ofsted people, we might in terms of affection if not expertise do rather better than some of the experts. Yet the thrust of Government fiscal policy - the Child Tax Credits, workplace childcare vouchers, wraparound child care, etc - is designed to encourage us to have someone else mind them. I have pondered whether, if my friend and I were to do a local authority course in childminding and swap children, we would be better off taking care of each other's offspring than our own. This is not an underhand way of saying that we should stay at home to raise babies. Each to her own, I say. It would be nice, though, if the state didn't so plainly take sides on the question of whether parents are better employed going out to work and using professionals to mind the children, or choosing to do it themselves.

How odd that, in the BBC's coverage of the papal visit to Germany, Pope Benedict's visit to a synagogue was described as being only the second such visit in history. As I recall, St Peter, whose chair Benedict now occupies, spent rather a lot of time in synagogues. As, indeed, did Christ himself.

Janet Street-Porter is away

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