Philip Hensher: No wonder he won't be Prime Minister

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The Independent Online

Over the past few months, a certain consensus seems to have taken hold. Almost everyone you talk to - friends, acquaintances, casual conversations in waiting rooms, on buses, with taxi drivers - agrees on one thing. Now, Gordon Brown just isn't going to be Prime Minister.

Perhaps aware of this, he's been going round saying the sorts of things which, he thinks, nobody could ever disagree with. It's become a habit with him, when being interviewed, to answer a sticky question with an unpractised smile and a random reference to his infant son.

Last week, when someone asked whether he might come to seem rather old in comparison with David Cameron, he said that of course, he had a two-year-old son, and so, in mental terms - well, the logic rather ran out there, or perhaps Mr Brown saw that it wasn't wise to start insisting on an intelligence which was confined by discourse with a toddler.

The latest bid for niceness came in a speech to the Fabian Society. Now, the Chancellor said, the French have a national day. The Americans have a national day. Why don't we have a national day? "Perhaps Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday," he said, "are the nearest we have come to a British Day - unifying, commemorative, dignified and an expression of British ideas of standing firm for the world in the name of liberty."

A terrible idea, just obviously terrible. It has the unmistakable air of one of John Major's bright ideas, and is just as spectacularly naff. For one thing, what's wrong with Remembrance Day as it stands? It is surprising that a politician has the bad taste to suggest anything which might diminish the annual force of 11 November.

What Mr Brown overlooks is that both American and French national days commemorate a specific anniversary. If we want one, we're going to have to find something worth commemorating, and here the difficulties start. Could you seriously imagine the Labour Party agreeing to commemorate a battle - Waterloo, Agincourt or Trafalgar - or anything connected with royalty? Really, we are all so embarrassed about our national history these days that a list of English icons can't venture very far from yammering about cups of tea and double-decker buses, for fear of offending someone.

Personally, I wouldn't mind a nice day off, and the Queen's official birthday, or the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution would seem as good an excuse as any, but you know that's not what Mr Brown has in mind. You know perfectly well the sort of thing he's thinking of. The National Day of Sir Tim Berners-Lee's Invention of the Internet. The National Day of Mary Seacole's Birthday (ask your children, they've heard enough about her in their history lessons). The National Day of the Founding of the National Health Service, with marching formations of radiologists.

No, no, no. The rest of the world would not agree that the thing the British need is lessons in how to be proud of being British; the one thing they all say is that we're sickeningly smug enough already. So let's just go on being smug about being British, with or without an extra day off work. And if Mr Brown's idea turns out to include some naff parade representing Britain Today, let's all greet it with that traditional British response, which I'm sure we can all join together in being proud of: "Christ, there's nothing on the telly. Do you want to go down the pub?"

Our stage is crowded, Kathleen

Kathleen Turner, the American actress, right, is in town to play Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Afterwards, she says, she wants to live and work in what she, like most Americans, calls "Europe" (what? Bulgaria?) full time. Her grouse is this: "I think women of my experience and my body of work are so much more respected there [sic]. Look at Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren, my God I could go on. They are all working."

She has a point here, though frankly I think it total impudence of her to compare her "experience and body of work" with that of Jeanne Moreau. Europeans have, certainly, always appreciated a wider range of feminine charms than Americans. I wonder, however, how far the appeal of the ageing starlet goes, even here. Sooner or later, we are bound to get fed up of Americans trying to kick-start their careers with the perceived cool of a transatlantic career and, subsequently, noisy complaints about our plumbing traditions. Don't we have enough old trouts with Equity cards already?

* For a small fee of £65, Selfridge's is prepared to teach you how to use your new MP3 player. Apparently there are people who buy the things without the faintest idea of how to use them, and are very grateful for the 40-minute lesson. Leaving aside, however, the question of why a salesman or the manufacturers' instructions can't help out the bewildered for nothing, there remains a question for those of us for whom recorded music is something you put on, and then sit down and listen to. Where is the 40-minute, £65 explanation of why one should want such a thing, following you round the streets, pumping music into your ears?