Is Kenneth Clarke really a bloke?

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The Independent Online
Bloke? Bloke? Call Kenneth Clarke a bloke? That's what he wants us to think, smirking, cheroot-smoking, scuffed-suede- shoe-wearing Chancellor that he is. And a man not afraid to proclaim that a grey-haired lady is his wife. Full marks on that score, but why does he have to be famous for 10 minutes?

Ten more minutes! You can just hear Young Conservatives chanting the new slogan. In truth, that is the airtime he is demanding on both channels on 26 November to tell us why he is giving with one hand, and taking more with the other. And because he is who he is, that is what he will get. Ten minutes on air is the best part of 2,000 words.

Not everybody shares big Ken's tele-bluster enthusiasm. BBC apparatchiks approached the Treasury over the past few days to ask Sherbet Ken if he might just settle for a five- minute political broadcast. It has to be said that they had self-interest, of a sort, at heart. TV chiefs know that the ratings collapse when the Chancellor goes on the box. Suddenly, putting on the kettle becomes a genuine entertainment option.

The men from the Beeb had already talked to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Both the opposition parties said they would go along with a five-minute appearance. Ken said No, I want my 10. So we now have to put up with Ten of Ken, and of Gordon Brown, and of the Liberal Democrats' shadow chancellor, whose name escapes me, probably for very good reasons.

t YOU think they have gone the full distance, and then they go and exceed themselves. Creevey's mole in Conservative Central Office says that Sir Richard Body - the faintly batty Holland with Boston MP of the "flapping white coats" allegation by John Major - has mounted a Campaign against Federal Europe meeting with the theme of Booze for Blighty. Well, more fun than a referendum.

WHAT it is to love one's wife. Peter Bottomley is so smitten with Ginny - I'm sorry, Virginia, the Secretary of State for National Heritage and his teenage bride of some time ago - that he had to go round telling people to be quiet at a Music TV function in the National Portrait Gallery last week.

For some reason, her speech did not attract the reverential attention given to Robbie Williams, of Take That, which - Creevey is reliably informed - is a popular performing group. The 500-strong audience listened to him, but chattered while she spoke. Peter was not happy. He ran around the room shushing the diners. We know he loves her. He never stops exhibiting his affection. Maybe she should fire her speechwriters, rather than put him through this regular indignity.

t GENERAL John de Chastelain, the Canadian warhorse who is yoked with the ex-Senator George Mitchell in the Ulster peace process, has just finished a round of talks with leaders of the the Northern Ireland political parties. "Did you get very far?" asked an anxious aide. "I'm not sure," said the old soldier wearily. "We got as far as the Battle of the Boyne in 1690."

HAVE you ever noticed that Nigel de Gruchy, he of the television omnipresence, can't speak English? At the end of every sentence he says "uh" - as in "my members-uh" and "the Government's fault-uh" and "more resources-uh".

This was a puzzle until my spies at the TUC disclosed that the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (-uh) comes from Jersey and was a teacher of English as a Foreign Language before he became a union baron. That's why he speaks it as a foreign language. He taught in France and Spain, where the students are rather better behaved than they are in Halifax. But can you imagine it? There must be a generation of Spaniards and French going round speaking English as a genuinely foreign language. "We are visiting London on our holidays-uh. Could you direct us to the Houses of Parliament-uh?"

Of course, he is not alone in finding English a challenging language. Tony Blair pronounces the word "it" as "ert", or that strange syllable formed by joining o and e together. It is all very disconcerting. Presumably, Mr Blair's difficulty stems from learning English as a foreign language in a Melbourne kindergarten. Come to think of it, Mr Major still speaks English like a Dalek, even after his elocution lessons. He says "wunt" instead of "want". Why can't politicians speak English proper, like what the rest of us does?

t BRASSED OFF, the film of everyday band life in gorgeous Grimethorpe, will have a real life, blood-on-the-walls sequel this week when Labour leaders choose a shortlist for the by-election at Barnsley East, the constituency run by the miners and more widely known as Stalingrad East. Creevey hears that John Prescott wants the seat to go to one Hedley Salt, aged 54, director of public affairs at Northern College. But didn't he quit politics to spend more time with, yes, Yorkshire Water? The miners want a local Fire Brigade union official, Mick Harper. There will be trouble - in contrast to the general rejoicing in safe Tory Bromsgrove, where the toothsome, buxom Telegraph journalist, Ms Julie Kirkbride, companion of the late, over-stimulated Stephen Milligan, has just been selected. This rather puts one over on the doomed fight in Wales of the other Telegraph candidate, Boris Johnson. But although Boris is blonder, Julie is undoubtedly prettier.

THOMAS Creevey? Thomas Creevey?Creevey (1768-1838) was the son of a Liverpool slaver. He was also an MP for rotten boroughs, a libeller of a tax inspector and a friend of Samuel Whitbread - all excellent qualifications for a diarist. Creevey also wrote some of the most witty political letters of the time. His great talent was for conveying vividly the foibles of the grand and the absurdity of their situation. Watch out.

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