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Political apathy is fine with me

JOHN CAREY in the London Evening Standard said something I have longed to say but never dared - that 'politics don't matter'. He wrote: 'Politicians and the media have a vested interest in inflating the importance of politics. The curious thing is that this political obsession seems to have grown in proportion as the real importance of domestic politics has shrunk.' If I or any woman had written those words, we would have been dismissed as 'typically female' but now the issue has been raised in chapspeak we are allowed to take it seriously.

Can anyone, apart from politicians and their media groupies, really get excited about who's in and who's out at Westminster? All political policy, all political debate in this country ultimately boils down to money - a few pounds on income tax or a few pence on beer. Obviously if you are living near the breadline, those few pounds or pence may be crucial, but they are not ideals, things you can feel passionate about. I have a dim memory of what fire-in-the-belly politics could be like because I remember the Sixties debates about nuclear disarmament and Vietnam, and there was a nostalgic whiff of the same passion around Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council. But now the debates are all about shunting money from A to B and back again, and the more footling the policy, the more paramount the 'presentation'. The media collude in making politics seem as important as politicians fondly imagine them to be. This is partly because many journalists are politicians manque - they fantasise about being called, like Henry Kissinger, out of their fusty offices and onto 'the world stage' - and partly because domestic politics provides a useful ongoing soap opera that can always yield a front- page headline when nothing more exciting is happening in the world. (In the tabloids this function has largely been usurped by the royal soap - which is fine by me.) We should not repine over politics being boring; on the contrary, we should celebrate it as a sign of national stability and psychological health. We don't have to fear coups or genocide; we don't have to worry about bribery and corruption (though the Tories are working on it); we are not beggared by galloping inflation or wracked by religious schism. This may sound smug but I believe that a highly politicised country is an unhappy country, and that we are lucky to be able to cultivate our gardens in peace and apathy.

TO QUAGLINO'S on Tuesday for an excellent party to launch Shirley Conran's latest glossy blockbuster, Crimson. La Shirley herself looked very fetching in an enormous hat, and she had a good turnout of her fellow superwomen, Jean Muir, Sian Phillips, Mary Quant, as well as her son Jasper and ex-husband Sir Terence - though the superwomen rather paled in comparison to Sir Terence's new girlfriend, Sunita Russell, a stunning 23- year-old Anglo-Indian student. Penguin's editor-in-chief, Peter Carson, made a witty speech thanking la Shirley for teaching Penguin everything they know about marketing women's blockbuster novels. But by golly I hope Penguin don't take up all her marketing wheezes. Her latest is to persuade Boots to launch a new lipstick called Crimson (original, no?) to give away with the book.

Meanwhile there was some entertaining jostling among the gossips. Tim Satchell, formerly Today's 'Insider' and the London Evening Standard's 'Mr Pepys', arrived in full morning dress complete with Ascot Royal Enclosure badge in case we missed the point. He was proposing to go on to the Big Issue party afterwards till I warned him that he might be lynched. Nigel Dempster then appeared in normal clothes. What? Hadn't he been to Ascot? No, he said crossly, because his wife lost their pass. Still, I notice he headed his Wednesday Diary 'Royal Ascot' just the same.

THE TABLOID headline-writers went to town this week over a paparazzo snap of Joan Collins shopping in a long, droopy Indian skirt and espadrilles. 'Who's the bag lady?' asked Today with its usual finesse, and other papers echoed the theme. Yet actually Ms Collins looked remarkably good, even without make-up and in mufti. I would go further and say she looked better in mufti: I have always found the idea of a 60-year-old dressed like a tart pretty gruesome. The odd thing nowadays is that it is only middle-aged women who dress like tarts: young women tend to look rather demure, whereas Hello] is full of frisky fifties cavorting about in their too-short skirts and their too-low decolletages, their boobs desperately jammed together with miracles of underwiring, their elaborate coiffures arranged to conceal their turkey necks, and their hands discreetly hidden, because while teeth and even faces can be fixed, hands show their years as clearly as tree-rings. The term 'well-preserved' is appropriate but not, in my view, complimentary. It reminds me of that terrible salted cod they have in Portugal that lasts for months and tastes disgusting. It is silly to pretend that old flesh ever looks as good as young flesh, and women past their prime are mad to parade too much of it. But Joan Collins is good fun and a good actress, with much more than mere flesh to offer, so I hope she won't be upset by those stupid headlines.

YECH, YECH, I'm off to Nottingham to be interviewed by Edwina Currie for today's Sunday Supplement television programme. I tried to interview her once for the Sunday Express but it was one of those ghastly fly-on-the-wall jobs where I was supposed to shadow her through a 'typical day'. She was whizzing round so fast demonstrating how typically important and busy she was, that the only chance for a meaningful question and answer came right at the end when we were waiting for our cars. By this time I was desperate so my question went as follows: 'Do you mind if I smoke?' Currie: 'Yes I do.' Somehow I don't think we're going to hit it off . . .