david aaronovitch

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It has been reported this week that the Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook (henceforth to be known only as Robin), is to circulate those who lie abroad for their country with a special video, introducing himself and his policies. Previously they only received a short note reading something like "Dear colleague. My name's Malcolm. I'm another Tory. I want Britain to be at the heart of Europe. Cheers."

But this new endeavour is not to be some Majorish lecture delivered to the camera. The Cook Report (as it is not called) is apparently to be filmed under the supervision of movie mogul, David Puttnam. There will be thrills, tears and emotion. One rumour even suggests that Mel Gibson - fresh from his triumph over the Scottish accent in Braveheart - will play the part of the MP for Livingston.

I am in favour of this bold use of technology. Indeed I believe that the principle should be extended. Enterprising college leavers, for example, should employ media students to create video CVs for them, using every visual artifice to enhance their images in the minds of potential employers. Filmed revising for their exams, engaging their fellows in witty conversation, or undertaking voluntary work among the lepers of the East Indies (as recreated in a photographer's studio in Chiswick), jobseekers could expect to make a far better impression than mere interview might afford.

Would it not also have cut out a lot of silly talk and exhausting dancing had one been able to put putative inamorati in the picture (so to speak), with a soft-focus tape advertising one's gentleness, sensuality and unexpected good looks?

But Robin's move is only one of several exciting initiatives. The other main one is the decision that everyone in the Cabinet will call each other by their first names. Which means, of course, that they will all get nicknames. Almost any group of sympathetic British people - of whatever age and class - when thrown together will begin to rechristen each other. Go and watch a park football match, and you will hear the players cursing each other using monikers that parents never invented. "Del! Del!" "On me head, Gal!" "Ferret! Man on!"

So we can expect Jacko for the new Home Secretary, Robbo for the defence supremo, Dobbo (which has the advantage of conveying a certain onomatopoeic truth) for the guardian of the nation's health.

There will be names ending in -za, as in Prezza, and -ie, as in Cookie and Smithie. Derry Irvine will be Del, Blunkers will run education, Hattie and Mags will swap dormitory stories with Shorty. I just hope that they will call the Chief Secretary to the Treasury "Darling".

Some will object. Last year, a book edited by the reactionary gourmand Digby Anderson (yet another right-wing pundit who woke up last Friday to find his purchase on public attention reduced to nearly nothing) contained fulminations by several academics against such abominations as the wearing of "gym clothes" in bank queues and the sexual aggressiveness suggested by the use of leggings.

One remarked that the fashion for first-name terms had eroded the respect necessary for relationships such as that between bank manager and client and (one imagines) between Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Agriculture (Jacko, or Jacksie?).

But this - as is usual with the authoritarian right - confuses the respect due to the position with that earned by the man. No one in the Labour Party is likely to use the names "Tony" or "Gordon" lightly, or to invest them with less significance than "Prime Minister" or "Chancellor".

I would go further. Tony has now become a name of talismanic power, not just a christian name. Like Oscar or Caesar, it may well be destined to transcend its nameliness and become a noun - in this case referring to the leader of the Labour Party. We can look forward to 2010, when Peter Mandelson battles it out with Alan Sugar's son and Richard Branson's daughter to become Labour's new Tony.

I have little doubt that when he does so, every single member of the Labour Party will receive a CD-Rom - directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Comments