Tag Archives: Prime Minister

Steve Coogan to play porn baron Paul Raymond in new Winterbottom movie?

Apparently plans are “well advanced” for Steve Coogan to play British porn baron Paul Raymond in a film directed by the extraordinarily prolific Michael Winterbottom – they previously worked together on the excellent 24 Hour Party People in which Coogan impersonated Tony Wilson to a tee. I encountered Tony Wilson when I was working at Granada TV and Coogan’s voice was uncannily spot-on though I found the hair strangely unsettling. Paul Raymond had a hairstyle even more extravagant than Tony Wilson, so this could be the start of a movie hair trilogy.

The planned new movie – currently called Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica – is based on Paul Willetts’ biography Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond.

Willetts said he originally wanted to entitle his book Panties Inferno after a long-ago American burlesque revue but, mystifyingly, there were legal problems.

I heard about both the planned movie and the book title last night at a publicity event for the book on a suitably sweaty night in Soho. Other long-ago US burlesque show titles loved by Willetts because they tried to make strip shows classy were Julius Teaser and Anatomy & Cleopatra.

Those were the days.

Paul Raymond also tried to make strip shows seem classy – “nudity without crudity” was the phrase he used. And he is a perfect movie subject – larger than life and with pretensions beyond his art. The best biographies are often akin to naff 1950s travelogues:

Paul Raymond – Land of Contrasts…

When he was 13, he wanted to be a Catholic priest – so maybe his later porn career ironically turned out to be less sexually seedy than it might have done. And, in latter days, he bankrolled Mark Thatcher’s failed motor racing career. Perhaps as a thankyou, he was once invited to Downing Street by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “an exemplary entrepreneur”.

When he got rich, he inevitably bought a boat and even tried to give that class by naming it ‘Get ‘em Off’ – but in Latin. His girlfriend Fiona Richmond’s mother was, at the time, a teacher in a convent and got the nuns to translate the words into Latin, though quite how she managed this without suspicions being aroused remains a complete mystery to me.

I only went to the Raymond Revuebar once, in the 1980s, when it was hosting alternative comedy shows. My clear memory is that regular comedy evenings were being run there by a young Eddie Izzard, though a quick Google tells me it was the Comic Strip.

Who knows?

In its early days, alternative comedy in the UK overlapped with dodgy Soho clubs.

In his early days, before the Revuebar opened, Paul Raymond had been a theatrical agent/producer with a winning formula he called ‘the comic, the conjurer and the girl with her tits out’.

In an interview in a 1969 LWT series called On The Record, Paul Raymond was interviewed by Alan Watson and rather bizarrely compared stripping to stand-up comedy. He said (I paraphrase): “Comedians tell gags to get laughs. Stripping is like comedy. If the act isn’t having the desired effect, then the stripper has to work harder.”

No wonder Margaret Thatcher thought he was an exemplary entrepreneur.

But the character Paul Willetts chatted about from the Soho ‘scene’ of that time who most interested me was not Paul Raymond but his acquaintance Paul Lincoln, an Australian who made his name in the ring as wrestler Dr Death, then started and co-owned the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho – birthplace of UK Rock n Roll.

Paul Lincoln died in January this year but, back when Paul Raymond was starting his seminal Revuebar in Walker’s Court in 1958 – allegedly the first strip club in Britain – Lincoln was promoting wrestling bouts around the country as well as running the 2i’s.

The two Pauls – Raymond and Lincoln – had a falling-out over an allegedly genuine German aristocrat – a baron – who wrestled on Lincoln’s UK circuit. The baron lived in a flat above the 2i’s and had a pet cheetah which he took for walks in Hyde Park.

These were innocent days.

The Raymond Revuebar, at the time, had novelty acts performing in its entrance area and Raymond effectively nicked the baron from Lincoln and started having wrestling bouts in the Revuebar entrance. Not only that, but he got the baron to train his cheetah to join the strippers on stage and undo girls’ undergarments with its teeth.

These were, indeed, the much more innocent, golden days before Health & Safety rules kicked in.

The Raymond Revuebar also reportedly featured a horse removing girls’ underwear with its teeth – sugar lumps were attached to relevant parts of the underwear to encourage the horse.

What encouraged the cheetah or how they got the horse into the club I don’t know.

Some of life’s most intriguing questions are doomed never to be answered.

(There is a follow-up to this blog HERE; and the comedy industry website Chortle picked up on this blog as a news item HERE.)

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The story two-faced Tony Blair/Bliar successfully hid from the British public

The individual’s right to privacy, the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press.

Now there’s a difficult balance to strike.

And then there are super-injunctions.

One of the reasons for granting one of the notorious secret super-injunctions was apparently that, if the man’s marital infidelity were revealed, his children might get bullied at school. I rather think that, if the guy’s kids get bullied because their father has been sticking his knob within someone other than his wife, then the guy should take responsibility. It ain’t for the public courts to help him try to hide his adultery.

But the protection of children versus freedom of the press can be a well-balanced problem – of which more later, with Tony Blair.

Yesterday, the Guido Fawkes blog ran a story that, since 2008 – unknown to the British public – it has been an offence punishable by imprisonment to reveal that Lakshmi Mittal, the richest man in Britain – who has donated £2 million to the Labour Party – has a super-injunction gagging all reporting of an unknown and unprintable matter.

And much was made in the press yesterday about the super-injunction with which former RBS boss Fred Goodwin tried to hide an affair he had with a married subordinate before the financial crisis of 2008. This was the super-injunction which also, technically, made it illegal to describe him as “a banker”.

There have been lots of worthy ‘public interest’ words about how the public deserved to know about Fred Goodwin’s affair because it may have affected his judgment in the period leading up to the point at which the British taxpayer had to fork out billions of pounds to save RBS.

I’m not convinced that Fred The Bed’s rumpy pumpy is too likely to have specifically contributed to RBS’s woes in any major way. I think that may be more to do with the near-meltdown of the entire world’s financial system – and, from my biased perspective, two Icelandic banks which stole the money I had invested in them. But stress, obviously, does affect people’s judgment in times of crisis.

If – let us say for argument’s sake – if… a Prime Minister were making important life-or-death decisions in a highly volatile post-war situation, the public would have a right to know if he were making those decisions under extreme personal stress, wouldn’t they?

Well, no, apparently the public would not have any right to know that.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think highly personal matters SHOULD be in the public domain if people – perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of people – might die because of a potentially wrong decision taken by a politician under extreme personal pressure.

Tony Blair – sometimes called Tony Bliar, a far more fitting spelling – the man who brought in the Freedom of Information Act – claimed he wanted ‘open’ government.

Yet, when his 16 year old daughter Kathryn attempted suicide on or around 13th May 2004, he and his chaps went to the editors of the main British newspapers and had all reporting of the attempted suicide barred from publication because it was a solely personal, private matter. Rupert Murdoch barred publication of any reporting of the incident in any of his newspapers worldwide; I do wonder what sort of political payback he could expect for doing that.

It remains one of many stories known by but not reported in the UK media. Many people who knew about the attempted suicide at the time agreed and still agree with the blanket non-reporting of the fact it happened. They believe that it was and is a family tragedy and there is no “in the public interest” factor involved; they argued and argue that the physical and psychological protection of the individual child outweighs any public right to know. I disagree.

In a recent blog I mentioned I tried to commit suicide when I was 18.

The Blair daughter suicide bid happened almost exactly one year after the invasion of Iraq, which was in an even worse mess and the Abu Ghraib torture pictures had recently been publicised. The suicide bid was rumoured to have been caused by a combination of exam stress and bullying by schoolmates about her father’s involvement in Iraq. Which is where that earlier reference to school bullying comes in.

The Blair suicide story is not an urban myth. I know someone who, at the time, was connected to the Blair daughter’s Roman Catholic state secondary school, the Sacred Heart in Hammersmith. I heard about it at the time because, obviously, the school knew it had happened.

I first heard the story mentioned in public by an Irish comedian at the August 2004 Edinburgh Fringe. The story had been published in Ireland and abroad but not in the UK and not by any news sources controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

At the time, there were unexplained stories in the British press that Blair was considering leaving office. No reason was given in the reports as to why Blair might leave office beyond, occasionally, some vague reference to “family”. And it seemed to me that Blair suddenly visibly aged at that time.

If those stories were true and he was indeed considering actually resigning for family reasons then it does not seem to be a vast leap of supposition to believe that he was making important decisions of life and death in an extremely volatile and unpredictable high-pressure post-Invasion situation while under extreme psychological stress.

The reasons for his stress might well have been “personal” and “private” but, when personal, normally private events affect national and international decisions and potentially the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people, the public has a right to know the circumstances under which those decisions are being made.

There ARE cases where the public’s “right to know” and freedom of the press over-ride people’s “right to privacy”.

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Why it’s no surprise Japan is in a mess – and why their politicians wear blue boiler suits at press conferences

A friend of mine went to Japan last October.

When she came back, she sold all her shares in Japanese businesses.

Lucky her, as it turns out – after their earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns in the last five days.

But, of course, that is not why she took all her investments out of all Japan.

She wisely sold her shares last October because, having been there, she had lost all confidence in the country.

She had expected a vibrant, go-getting, futuristic country. But, when she travelled round the Far East, she found Japan was not that country. All her pre-conceptions of Japan she found fulfilled in South Korea.

Japan was a comparatively old-fashioned country with no noticeable efficiency in the workplace or in the infrastructure.

“They say the tower blocks are built to withstand earthquakes,” she told me last year. “But I wouldn’t trust them.”

She was shocked when she got on trains in the rush hour.

“All I saw,” she told me yesterday, “was a sea of ‘salarymen’ and they were all wearing cheap suits.”

“Where were all the secretaries?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But the country is still sexist. It’s like some throwback to an earlier era. And I couldn’t get over the shabby suits.”

She went to Tokyo, Osaka and other Japanese cities and found the same everywhere: oceans of salarymen in cheap suits and people using old-fashioned brick-like mobile phones. No new technology visibly in use on the streets.

“I never saw an iPad the whole time I was in Japan,” she told me yesterday. “And the young people were not dressed smartly, they weren’t trendy and, it seemed to me, they weren’t very lively.”

It was, she said, a country that has lost its way, possibly through complacency.

The older generation seems mystified as to why the younger generation does not want to go abroad to see other cultures. And, apparently, the younger generation is not spending money the way, in all other industrial cultures, young people do.

It gave the impression of a country that did not look to the future and did not even particularly look to the distant past.

It was a country stuck in the closing years of the 20th century.

“I’m not surprised the nuclear reactors don’t seem to have been built particularly well,” my friend said to me yesterday.

What mystified me, though, was…

Why is it that, when Japanese politicians – the Prime Minister downwards – appear at press conferences on TV they are all wearing the same uniform light blue boiler suits? Very well-designed boiler suits, I admit. But they all look like they are going to service Toyota cars.

I like Toyota cars. I have one myself. They are very well serviced. But why are the politicians not wearing snazzy, expensive black business suits?

It’s like they are wearing Chinese Mao suits re-designed for the Japanese by someone in Milan.

Why?

So, before writing this blog, I asked another friend – she worked for a Japanese multinational in Tokyo and speaks fluent Japanese.

“Apparently,” she tells me, “the blue suits they are wearing are search and rescue overalls and are to bring the high and mighty down to the level of those on the ground and give the impression they, too, are part of the relief effort.”

Ye Gods! If David Cameron wore a search and rescue suit at a press conference after some major disaster, he would get crucified in the press for bullshit and spin.

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Oy! Oy! – Anti-Semitism, a murderous Israeli cross-border raid and a Jewish joke from the Prime Minister

This week, I was talking to Israeli-born, London-based freelance journalist Daphna Baram, who wrote a fascinating book Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel about that British newspaper’s relations with and perception of Israel. (The 2004 hardback is currently on sale at amazon.co.uk for an eye-popping £94.98p)

The only prejudice I know I have is that I am unthinkingly pro-Jewish, largely because I went to a grammar school with a very high percentage of Jewish pupils. That prejudice in favour of Jews used to transfer equally to Israel.

Hey! – remember why Israel occupies the West Bank, the Golan Heights etc – it’s because, in 1967, the countries surrounding it were foolish enough to threaten to attack Israel (not for the first time) in an attempt to wipe it off the face of the map… They lost their gamble… and, in six days – spookily the same amount of time in which the Jewish God allegedly created the Universe – Israel created more defensible borders. Like him, they rested on the seventh day.

Egypt, Jordan and Syria miscalculated so badly that Israel’s defensive attack originally pushed the Egyptian Army back to the Suez Canal and threatened Cairo, while Jordan’s West Bank territories were over-run and Syria lost the Golan Heights. But, when I hear the words “Golan Heights”, I don’t think “wantonly occupied by Israel”, my memory is of the Syrian Army pouring heavy artillery shells down onto the farmland of northern Israel from the heights before the Six Day War started.

My automatic pro-Israeli thinking, of course, has lessened. Bulldozing the houses of terrorists’ families and taking ten eyes for an eye if you are attacked smacks of the Nazis in their occupied territories in the 1940s and makes me think Have the Israeli government never read their own history books? It was counter-productive for the Germans. It is counterproductive for the Israelis. When they bulldoze a house, does the name Lidice never spring into their minds?

They only have to look at a map. The town of Lidice is still there on modern day maps.

I am always a simplistic thinker.

If you constantly fire rockets into Israel, then Israel is going to react, possibly – and not unreasonably – by sending troops into the country from which it is being attacked. If the IRA had been repeatedly/constantly shelling Liverpool from positions just outside Dublin, the British government would have done more than send a few SAS men into the Republic of Ireland to assassinate people (as they did without the provocation of suffering rocket-attacks from foreign soil).

But I mentioned to Daphna Baram that I thought Israel’s image in the UK had mainly gone downhill since my erstwhile youth largely because of accents.

When I was a kid, the Israelis were automatically the good guys because they sounded like us and wore Western clothes, whereas the Palestinians/Arabs sounded like foreigners and wore costumes straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.

In my erstwhile youth, Prime Minister Golda Meir had an American accent and looked like a grandmother from Baltimore. Israel’s long-time Foreign Minister Abba Eban spoke like he had been educated at a rather stuffy English public school and dressed like the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, looked and sounded like a rather dodgy bloke up an alleyway in Casablanca or some similar black & white movie, selling dirty postcards to tourists.

I mean… Golda Meir – she was a Jew, the Israeli Prime Minister – and she titled her autobiography My Life… you have to admire her for having a sense of humour. Yasser Arafat did not look like he sat at home and watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus on TV. Golda Meir might have watched The Benny Hill Show.

It was around the time of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his successor Yitzhak Shamir that things started to go downhill for Israel in PR terms. This was, I think, mainly because Begin and Shamir both had a guttural accent when speaking English though – yes, OK – there was also the minor matter of them both being former anti-British terrorists.

Begin had been leader of Irgun and Shamir was a former member of both Irgun and The Stern Gang.

But that has never been an insurmountable problem for the British – from Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya to Michael Collins, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Ireland, we have always accepted terrorists as the political leaders of ‘our’ former countries.

The trouble with Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir was that they sounded as foreign and alien as their Palestinian rivals – and their suits were not as smart as Abba Eban’s had been.

Daphna did not really agree with me about accents changing Britain’s attitude to Israel, but she did tell me a story about Abba Eban.

In the late 1950s, when Abba Eban was Israel’s representative at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered an especially murderous raid across the border.

Abba Eban stood up at the UN General Assembly and made a particularly brilliant speech defending the raid. He than phoned David Ben-Gurion to express his utter outrage at what he considered had been an appalling and reprehensible attack.

Ben-Gurion listened to Abba Eban, then said:

“Well, I was having second thoughts about the raid myself but, after I heard your outstanding speech, I  was convinced that I did the right thing”.

A story more Oy! Oy! than Oy Vey! perhaps.

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Shimmering images, Ann Widdecombe’s brilliance and Gordon Brown – The Opera

I have had a fair amount of feedback from yesterday’s blog about the appalling image of the current Labour Party leadership.

One thing I have not been able to figure out is how the Conservative Party has successfully re-imaged at least two of its failed former party leaders.

John Major had a very large and very under-underrated role in bringing a 30-year stretch of Irish Troubles to an (almost) end (or at least to a healthy pause). Tony Blair took the credit but it was John Major who set all the necessaries in place and started everything rolling along. Unfortunately for him, as Prime Minister, he had the image of a weak, grey man out of control of the economic events buffeting him and the accusations of tabloid sleaze swirling round his colleagues.

Yet, just a few years later, he had been turned into an amiable, cricket-loving uncle figure and now he has been transformed yet again, this time into an elder statesman – a wise advisor with a steady pair of political hands.

Almost more staggering was the transformation of William Hague from simultaneously too-young and too-bald laughing stock into the wise semi-Churchillian muse he always aspired to be – and now into a calm, respected Foreign Secretary. I would not be surprised to see him ‘do another Churchill’ in a few years time and return to lead the party or even the country.

A third failed Conservative Party leader (there have been an awful lot of them) Michael Howard seemed to be brilliantly and terminally characterised by a venomous Ann Widdecombe as having “something of the night about him”. But now, when he occasionally pops up on TV, he seems less like a political vampire than an amiable man with a humorous twinkle in his eye and a jolly chortle. Though I would still not trust him after dark in a gothic mansion.

Even Ian Duncan Smith, a man for whom the word ‘bland’ seems too glitzy a description, has re-appeared on our screens of late not seeming too definitively dull. I think, with him, though, even the Conservative Party’s best spin doctors are on to a semi-loser.

Compare these mostly successful Conservative image-changes to the Labour Party’s PR failure with their ex-leaders.

Neil Kinnock still comes across as a charming, well-meaning Welsh windbag, simultaneously over-erudite and approaching near air-headedness. I can imagine him banging his head in Wayne’s World.

Tony Blair is now seen as the bullshit artist he always was: a man endlessly prepared to duck, dodge, dive, weave, spin and shit on others – and allow others to die for his principles – always smugly secure in the knowledge that his opinion is right because he and God work as a double act.

That’s two former leaders whom the Labour Party has been unable to re-image.

And then there is the sad case of Gordon Brown who is still in that nether region where he is too embarrassed to pop his head above the parapet and everyone else is too embarrassed to talk about him.

If Anna Nicole Smith’s life can be turned into an opera (as it just has been for the Royal Opera House), then Gordon Brown’s story cannot be far behind. It cries out for loud Wagnerian music to accompany one of the great political and personal tragedies of the last 50 years.

The story of a man with deeply-held socialist principles and a lust for power who had to wait ten years watching superficial socialist pretender Tony Blair – all style and no substance – get plaudits… then, after waiting that long decade of labyrinthine, Machiavellian, soul-destroying plotting, he eventually gets the powerful job he always knew he deserved and was promised… only to find the whole edifice comes crumbling down around him. And, ironically, the one thing he was always lauded for – his sure touch on the Economy – is one of the main causes of his downfall. That and an accidentally-recorded aside about an ordinary woman he casually called a racist on an apparently insignificant visit to the provinces.

It is like James Cagney at the end of White Heat.

Gordon Brown – he finally got to the top of the world and it blew right up in his face

If that is not meat for an opera, I don’t know what is.

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Is Labour Party leader Ed Miliband the junkie twin of Shrek with some unprintable birth defect?

We live in a world where computer animation can do almost anything and I saw a BBC News Channel report last night in which a disabled human being could control the movements of his own wheelchair by his thoughts alone. But I think Pixar and/or Disney and the scientists have gone a step too far in creating a deformed cartoon character and making him leader of the Labour Party in the UK.

What has happened to the Labour Party’s image-control and PR sense and why are the media not talking about how just plain ugly and/or weird Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls are? With the Conservative Party’s new-found PR confidence, Labour is now on a hiding to nothing.

Ed Miliband looks like a slightly slimmer, emotionally-distraught version of Shrek, stumbling about what to him is the alien world of Planet Earth.

Young Ed seems barely out of short trousers and looks like the type of slightly-swottish and humourless schoolboy who gets remorselessly picked-on by bullies. His equally alien-looking brother, the politically-deceased ex-Foreign Secretary David Miliband, was odd enough. He looked like an unholy cross between an unblinking starey-eyed zombie and an automaton from some 1920s German silent movie. I always half expected the front of his face to fall off revealing a mechanical interior, like Yul Brynner in Westworld.

Neither Miliband brother has any visible warmth. But Ed Miliband looks worse.

Yesterday, the coalition government did a u-turn when it announced it was not going to privatise 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland in England. I have no more idea than anyone else what a hectare is – it sounds like a small woodland creature with long sticky-up ears – but it also sounds quite large; I mean the land area, not the woodland creature.

The point is that the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, stood up in the House of Commons in a light beige jacket with a light pastel scarf round her neck and said in a gently serious voice: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have listened to people’s concerns”.

Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, always a surprisingly unsympathetic speaker on TV when you consider he used to write for the TV satire show That Was The Week That Was, tried to criticise this as a “humiliating climbdown”.

Caroline Spelman said: “It is only humiliating if you are afraid to say sorry. We teach our children to say sorry.”

This is PR gold dust. It’s a brilliant piece of pre-prepared PR writing.

I have never understood why admitting you are doing a u-turn on a policy has been a no-go for all political parties for so many years. If you phrase the u-turn as a caring, listening, party-of-the-people apology and get the tone right, the public will lap it up.

On the other hand, if you get not just the policy but the party leader wrong, you are dead in the water.

On TV last night, I watched Ed Miliband try to mouth off about the coalition government’s change of policy and, as usual, I could not pay any attention to what he was actually saying because I was utterly mesmerised by his mouth.

When Gordon Brown first became Chancellor of the Exchequer, I had trouble listening to him because he appeared to have been trained to talk in easily-assimilated short phrases and mini-sentences by sticking his tongue into the inside of his cheek when the pauses had to be made. He gave new meaning to the phrase ‘sound bite’. He got slightly less obvious about this by the time he became our unelected Prime Minister, but it was still there and still slightly distracting at the time of his political demise.

Ed Miliband has desperately emotionless fish eyes which stare like someone who has just seen his entire family die in an intense house fire and his lips have a strange rubbery-out-of-control mind of their own. Last night I had no idea what he was saying. His lips had taken on a mad, OTT cartoon life of their own, separate from the rest of his face, as if drawn by a cartoonist on a very strong and very demented acid trip. His upper and lower lips moved around independent of each other and independent of his face, sometimes leaping sideways, upwards or downwards, unrelated to the sounds coming out.

Has he had some terrible accident or did he have some awful birth defect the media are too polite to tell us about? It is like we are watching a man with a mouth being attacked by Pixar and eyes added on by CGI from the shark in Jaws.

And don’t mention Ed Balls.

Firstly, how can any political party seriously expect to get votes from the notably humour-loving British public when their Shadow Chancellor is called Balls. But then, to add another impossible layer to their chances, Ed Balls – who looks not unlike Fred Flintstone forced to wear a second-hand business suit –  appears on TV to be a charisma-free zone who, like the Miliband brothers, tries not blink on camera – it’s a trick I think some politicians may have learned from Hitler’s filmed speeches. Hitler was an exceptionally good public speaker who had trained himself not to blink on camera to create an even greater aura of self-confidence. I read that Tony Benn copied this media trick of Hitler’s, though not his policies.

Ed Balls (unlike Hitler) has an emotionless feel and, although there’s not much he can do about being bulky, he fails to overcome this when he tries to smile with his eyes: it merely makes him look like a ‘heavy’ enforcer for some dodgy East End protection racket – and it’s slightly reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s unfortunate and terrifying attempts to smile on camera.

Compare the dead-eyed Miliband brothers and Balls to the on-screen personas of Prime Minister David Cameron (slightly eager and well-meaning public school boy) and Chancellor George Osborne (a bit of a smug prefect from a family with no money worries, but probably efficient).

And add to all that the fact that the Conservatives landed on their feet when they had to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party.

The Conservatives faced a terrible future of having to make vastly unpopular financial cuts to basic services because of the state of the economy. But it turned out the coalition allowed them to deflect a large percentage of public anger onto the Lib-Dems

All three parties have problems, but the Conservatives have re-discovered their power over PR and image control. The Lib-Dems have a problem by seeming to go back on Election promises. But the Labour Party is in a worse position. It has lost its grip and has insurmountable problems until it dumps Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and finds some new acceptable face of socialism.

And, my dear, that gaunt look with the staring eyes! Heroin chic is just SO last century.

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The Prime Minister, sex, sleaze, prostitutes and Boris Johnson

A friend of mine – an Englishman in Italy – used to work for a large international conglomerate and, in the 1990s, once had to take a briefcase stuffed with cash to Rome Airport and hand it over to a civil servant. Everyone accepted that was how the wheels were greased. That was how the Italian state worked.

I also used to know someone involved with an Italian TV show which had to employ a girlfriend of now-deceased Prime Minister Bettino Craxi on their series. In fact, that underestimates her role: she actually arranged orgies for Prime Minister Craxi. My chum thought, “Ooh, now there’s a big secret I know about!” But then he discovered everyone knew about the supposed ‘scandal’ and it was almost routinely printed in Italian newspapers and magazines; everyone just accepted it. That was how the Italian state worked.

So I am a tad surprised as well as being in moral confusion about the current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s problems.

He is immensely entertaining, which is always a bonus in my eyes. A bit like London’s current mayor Boris Johnson but with dyed hair. My heart takes flight when I hear any news item about either Boris or Silvio. I just know it’s going to be knockabout laugh-a-minute stuff.

But now Silvio is accused of having sex with an under-aged prostitute. This is not good. He faces a court case and a potential 15 years in prison. This is definitely not good.

The age of consent in Italy is generally 14, though 13-year-olds can legally have sex with partners who are less than three years older. This seems much too low to me but, if that is the law in Italy, then that is what good Italians Catholics have decided is morally acceptable. As I understand it, the girl involved in the Berlusconi case was 17 when the alleged sex took place and, while prostitution is legal in Italy – just as it is in the UK – it is illegal in Italy for a man to have sex with a prostitute under 18.

So the girl involved was three years over the general age of consent but one year under the legal age for sexual consent as a prostitute. This seems a very complicated moral quagmire within Italy, though I can see why sex with a prostitute under 18 is proscribed.

However, both Silvio and the girl totally deny sex took place. If they both deny it, then quite how evidence can be presented that it did take place I don’t know. There was a payment of £6,000 but apparently well after the alleged sex allegedly happened and Silvio and the girl both claim the payment was connected to something totally different. He also got her released from police custody in a separate incident, but that is more abuse of power than directly relevant the sex charges. It’s all a bit murky but sounds too circumstantial for a prosecution.

They could be lying through their teeth, of course, though I’m not sure why a young prostitute would not admit sex took place if she is going to become rich on selling the whole story to the media.

There is also the question in my mind of why on earth Silvio Berlsconi would have to pay for sex with a girl. Call me cynical, but the man is a billionaire, he owns a string of high-profile populist TV stations so he can get anyone he wants onto TV and he is the most powerful politician in the country! Any one of those three facts, in my experience, would mean lithe young nymphettes would be throwing themselves at him for free every day! The casting couch stretches beyond the movie business.

Heavens! Nymphettes throw themselves at impoverished comedians in dodgy basement clubs on a nightly basis let alone powerful billionaires who can get them on several national television series.

BBC News reported that Silvio Berlusconi reckons he has been in court over 2,500 times during various cases over the years. He has been accused of tax fraud, corruption, infidelity, Mafia involvement, you name it. I’m surprised he hasn’t been accused of illegally importing birds’ eggs. At least once he was accused of paying bribes on behalf of his companies at a time when no large company in Italy could operate without paying bribes. It struck me as a purely politically-motivated prosecution. That was/is how the Italian state worked/works.

Last year he was accused of being a member of an alleged secret organisation allegedly called P3 – a revival, it was said, of the infamous Masonic lodge P2 – Propaganda Due which existed from 1946 to at least 1981 and of which Silvio really was a member.

I have no idea if he is guilty or innocent of the current charges. He is certainly not an innocent man in general. And Italy – run by P2 and the Mafia from the end of the Second World War to perhaps the mid-70s – is most certainly not an innocent country.

P2 comprised prominent politicians, industrialists, bankers, journalists and military leaders, the heads of all three Italian intelligence services and even the pretender to the Italian throne. In 1977, P2 took over the influential Corriere della Sera newspaper; it was rumoured to be involved in the 1982 killing of ‘God’s banker’ Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London, and it even had rumoured links to the 1980 bombing of Bologna railway station and the 1978 killing of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the heavily-infiltrated Red Brigades (allegedly because he had started to talk about NATO’s secret Gladio network).

It feels to me that Silvio is being stitched-up at the moment. He may very well be a reprehensible, ageing sleazeball, but this is a case where every fact seems to swirl in very muddied waters indeed.

It is not as if Silvio Berlusconi was running a prostitution racket, is it…

Is it?

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