Letter from the Editor

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The Independent Online
Is William Hague the first man to become leader of a political party because of a photograph - the one of Ken Clarke and John Redwood that appeared on so many front pages on the morning of the final ballot? I yield to no one in my admiration for Clarke; he would have made a formidable and sensible Opposition leader of the sort the country needs. He is a very serious loss to frontbench politics.

But his alliance with Redwood was so bizarre, so uncharacteristically implausible, and too-clever-by-half that people of all political views immediately recoiled. The headlines, from our own ``Very strange bedfellows'' to ``Fury at Clarke-Redwood Pact'' (The Telegraph), ``The alliance of opposites'' (The Guardian) and ``An Incredible Alliance of Opposites'' (The Express) must have had an effect on wavering Tory MPs. But the killer was surely that picture of two profoundly uncomfortable-looking men, grinning unconvincingly beside one another. I guess Clarke lost, above all, because a couple of dozen Conservative MPs picked up the papers, stared at it, and just thought ``no''. It was a brilliant wheeze to link up with Redwood. And if he hadn't thought of it, he might well have won.

As a nation, we are sliding steadily into a pit of moral degradation, lewd filth and dribbling lubricity: that, any rate, is the view of a small but steady stream of puritanical letters in the weekly postbag. I have never been convinced by the moral decline thesis - one of the benefits, perhaps, of a sound historical education - but was struck by two events this week. First, the science magazine Focus experimented with a ``hot sex'' cover for half its June print run, keeping a ``UFO'' on the other half ... and found sex didn't sell any better. Second, the editor of The News of the World tells me that since cleaning up that paper - its bonking vicar count has crashed - he is attracting back female readers. I wonder if we are becoming inured to, and bored by, sex stories? This is good news ... as long as we are not becoming fascinated by UFOs instead. I don't believe half the sex stories in the tabloids; but I believe in little green men even less.

Education comes by strange routes: I am helping judge a poetry competition; books and poets' personal details are piling up in the office. And what truly shocks me, as a flabby over-hack at the easier end of the words business, is just how poor poets are. One of the best poets of his generation, for instance, is existing on a tiny income, with the help of the DSS jobseeker's allowance.

Writers of fiction can make good livings; why is poetry so undervalued? It isn't that the stuff is obscure or unattractive - most of what I have been reading is clearer, more moving and much more verbally exciting than anything by Martin Amis or most other top-league novelists. I don't understand it. We hear a lot about the British ``superstars'' in visual arts, architecture, music, design, fashion: yet there are world-class British poets writing today who are submerged well below the poverty line. Here, surely, is a real ``good cause'' for lottery money. It is time to get away from the concentration on buildings and infrastructure and give some space and opportunity to hugely talented and creative people.

The scene: the 50th floor of this building, London all pinky-blue below, a large party in full swing, hosted by Rosie Boycott, our Sunday editor. Mick Jagger is present. Says one impressed Indie hack to another: ``Hey, spoken to Mick yet?'' He turns round to see Jagger smiling at him. What kind of smile? I asked. Oh, said my colleague, I think it was his ``well, you're a bit of a poor sad bastard'' sort of smile. We're all dead cool, us at the Indie.

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