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I blame the scapegoats, p.21

I blame the scapegoats, page 21


I blame the scapegoats

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  But interfering directly with the genetic make-up of crops is very different indeed because of the scientific process involved. What the geneticists do is, well, it's hard to explain exactly, but um, there's this DNA stuff and then, er, chromosomes and well, I think they take out all the genes and then they mix up the GM with the DNA or something - well, anyway, I don't like the sound of it. However, one thing that we can all understand is that increased food production won't automatically feed the starving millions. The promise that GM crops will bring an end to malnutrition is a bogus one. We already have enough food to feed everyone in the world. Increasing food production with GM crops might boost profits and surpluses but it won't make any difference to the way that food and, more importantly, power is distributed in this world. Meanwhile we are being hurriedly led down a rather treacherous path through a field of GM triffids, and this time I'm not sure I trust the bloke with the Ordnance Survey map who claims he knows where he's going. Two things are certain with GM crops: firstly, there are bound to be disastrous ecological side-effects that no one ever foresaw; and secondly, they'll never modify Brussels sprouts enough for kids to try one on Christmas Day. And in the meantime the food companies will keep assuring us that eating GM vegetables has no dangerous side-effects. Yeah, right, so how come the Jolly Green Giant ended up looking like that then?

  Tories in turmoil (Part 7)

  I March 2003

  It is a dilemma that has split Europe, that consumes Washington, NATO and the corridors of Westminster. Should UN troops be used to bring about regime change at the top of the Conservative Party? Is it really morally acceptable for us to stand by and watch the terrible suffering that IDS is causing Conservative supporters? Would it not be more humane in the long term for the UN to step in and topple his extremist military leadership and install a regime that offers some hope to desperate Tory Party members?

  From his bunker in Central Office come reports of increasing paranoia and panic as Duncan Smith ruthlessly 'disposes' of any former ally that he imagines might threaten his position. His deputies walk in terror that they may be next to be 'disappeared' or, worse, may be forced to endure the terrible torture of listening to IDS explaining his position on the Euro.

  The latest crisis in the Tory Party was triggered when prominent Conservatives Mark MacGregor and Rick Nye were dramatically sacked. Newspaper offices were thrown into a frenzy when this news came down the wire.

  'So, um, who's going to cover this one then?'

  'Er, sports desk, maybe? I've got a feeling one of them might be manager of Farnborough Town.'

  'No, it must be an entertainment story - they're actors in Emmerdale, I'm sure of it. . .'

  But for the more liberal Conservative MPs who understood that these sackings represented another lurch to the right, their fury could not have been greater if someone had passed the cannabis round the wrong way.

  Michael Portillo promptly launched an attack on IDS's leadership, accusing him of surrounding himself with pygmies. As it happens, there are indeed a number of four-foot-high Equatorial Africans working in IDS's private office who were rather offended by this remark. The leader duly hit back and the political row reached such a pitch over the weekend that Breakfast with Frost was actually watched by someone who wasn't a politician or living in an old people's home. Thank goodness Norman Tebbit was on hand to add some measured sanity to the debate on modernization. 'I could count on the fingers of the right hand of a Finsbury Park Muslim cleric the number of voters who have asked me to support the legalization of sex in public lavatories or instruction in oral sex in schools.' But surely all three parties are agreed that these are key planks in British domestic policy! I suppose we should just be grateful that there were no veiled personal attacks on Michael Portillo.

  With the threat of war damaging the government's standing in the polls, the Conservatives ought to be brimming with confidence. In fact, many Conservatives are suggesting to him that the Gulf crisis might be the one issue on which Duncan Smith could really make an impact.

  'What you should do, Iain, is go to Iraq for a bit.'

  'What, to negotiate with Saddam Hussein, you mean?'

  'Er, if you want, but just get a feel for the place. We've rented you a little flat next door to the Baghdad armaments factory - it's a six-month lease.'

  But of course we don't have to wait for the Conservatives to remove him as leader of the opposition. It is theoretically in the gift of the Parliamentary Labour Party to make the Liberals the official opposition. A hundred or so Labour backbenchers could decide to cross the floor of the house to join the Liberals, so that the Lib Dems then became the second largest party. Admittedly Labour would not be in such a commanding position in the Commons, but it wouldn't matter because these former Labour MPs would have a curious tendency to defy the Liberal whip and consistently vote with the Labour government. Iain Duncan Smith would then be the leader of a minor party which would finally tear itself apart in a mire of back-stabbing and recriminations.

  But of course the government actually want IDS in place for as long as possible, so for once the crisis in the Tory Party is bad news for Labour. It's a chilling thought that it's not Portillo who is the covert ally of New Labour, but Norman Tebbit and the other far-right supporters of the current leadership. Meanwhile the Tories remain fundamentally divided on the major issues of the day, such as 'Which one's Ant and which one's Dec?' More importantly, there is growing panic in the Parliamentary Party that Iain Duncan Smith consistently fails to make any impact. Their leader strenuously denied this, although no one can quite remember what he actually said. Journalists have reduced his name to three letters, but even typing 'IDS' feels like more effort than he really justifies. Tory MPs had been hoping that their leader would grow into the job, but it turns out that there is less to him than meets the eye. Unless the Tories make major gains in May's local elections, then IDS may well be in his job for even less time than Saddam Hussein's anger therapist.

  Who wants to be a military Blair?

  7 March 2003

  Accusations of fraud in TV game shows are nothing new. Police are currently looking into a claim that a number of the participants in I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! were not in fact celebrities at all, but rather tragic rejects from the provincial panto circuit. On another occasion an imposter on Mastermind was prevented from entering the studio when police noticed he was wearing vaguely fashionable clothes. And there was also outrage recently on University Challenge, when the captain of some Oxbridge team actually allowed the token female to give her correct response herself, rather than confidently repeating her whispered answer as if he'd known it all along.

  But the allegations currently occupying Southwark Crown Court are far more serious because of the prize involved. I'm not saying that the commemorative glass bowl that the BBC dished out to the winner of Mastermind was a worthless piece of tat, not at all; it's just that given the choice I suspect many of the winners might have preferred a million quid.

  But now the third person to win the ultimate prize on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? stands accused of cheating. This week the defendant took the witness box and the prosecution's cross-examination began. 'Are you Major Charles Ingram from Easterton, Wiltshire?' The courtroom lights dimmed, and the electronic heartbeat of the Millionaire theme tune pulsated underneath as all eyes fell on the Major. But they always start off with a really easy question and Ingram came straight back with the correct answer as the jury breathed a sigh of relief and burst into applause. 'Question number two: Are you guilty or not guilty of the charges brought against you?' At this point he considered going fifty/fifty but opted instead to phone a friend, in this case his lawyer, who reckoned he ought to plump for 'Not Guilty'. Final answer? asked the judge. 'Final answer,' he confirmed.

  Of course, the key difference with this particular quiz show is that the longer the lawyers can string out the questions, the closer they get to earning themselves another million. On Wednesday the video
of the entire show in question was played in court. When Chris Tarrant said, 'What is butterscotch?' the judge was jumping up and down saying, 'Ooh, I know this one - it's D: brittle toffee. It's definitely D!' and the lawyers felt obliged to applaud His Honour's impressive display of general knowledge. Then came the next question: 'For two thousand pounds: In Coronation Street, who is Audrey's daughter?' and with all the jury nodding to each other about the correct answer, the judge lost patience and said, 'Look, do we really have to watch this all the way through . . .'

  The allegation is that this contestant won his million with the assistance of someone in the audience coughing at key moments to signal which choice was the correct answer. More worryingly, it appears that this covert method of prompting the right response is spreading beyond mere entertainment shows. Over recent weeks our own Prime Minister has repeatedly been in the hot seat and forced to answer some very difficult questions on the subject of the impending war with Iraq. Allegations have now been made that at each stage the PM was being assisted by a man called George W. Bush who was sitting in the audience coughing emphatically at crucial moments. Now the transcript of Who Wants To Be A Military Blair? is published here for the first time.

  'Prime Minister, would you support a war against Iraq that did not have the backing of the United Nations?'

  'Hmmm . . . I'm tempted to say that we must have UN support.' Silence. Blair then appears unsure about this answer. 'But then again, maybe we have a duty to support the Americans with or without the UN . . .' A distinctive cough is heard from Mr Bush sitting in the third row. 'Yes, yes, I think that's the right answer . . .' Another loud cough. 'Definitely, I'm sure of it now. I'm going to plump for support the Americans whatever.'

  As is traditional, the questioning gets harder. 'Okay, now remember this question is worth billions of pounds in defence and reconstruction contracts for British companies. So, for ten billion pounds: Would you begin the bombing of Iraq before there has even been a second UN resolution or a vote in the House of Commons?'

  'Hmmm . . . not sure,' says Blair, seeming deliberately to consider his choices out loud. 'Should we start bombing Iraq now?' Suddenly Mr Bush can be clearly heard coughing like a heavy smoker with bronchitis. One or two of the splutters even sound like a thinly disguised 'Yes!' 'Actually, I think I do know this one,' says the British PM. (There's no point in Tony asking the audience because he did that right at the beginning; they all voted against the war and he chose to disregard them.) 'Yes, definitely! In fact, the bombing has already started.' It's confirmed that this is true and Tony leaps up and punches the air.

  'Congratulations! And here's your prize - an enormous blank cheque made out from you to the Americans . . . Oh, but before you leave, there are some gentlemen in the wings. They want to talk to you about breaking international law . . .'

  That's slaughtertainment!

  28 March 2003

  The auditions to be Saddam Hussein's lookalike must be rather nervous affairs. All of Iraq's finest impressionists are summoned to the Imperial Palace, along with make-up artists, prosthetics experts and the proprietor of Moustaches 'R' Us. And then the Iraqi equivalents of Rory Bremner or Robin Williams have to stand before the brutal, vain and famously short-tempered dictator and do their very best parody of him.

  'Why are you twitching like that? I don't twitch!' barks Saddam as the Republican Guards try to suppress their laughter at the brilliance of the caricature.

  'We will defeat the American criminals . . .' continues the impressionist, twitching satirically as the soldiers collapse into uncontrollable laughter which they have to pretend are tears of love for their glorious leader.

  'And you are nowhere near handsome enough - why have you got a great big bulbous nose, I don't have a bulbous nose. We should get Richard Gere to be my lookalike.'

  With an atmosphere like this, it's no wonder that Saddam's broadcasts end up being such dull and unwatchable affairs. The format is wooden and old fashioned, with none of the intimacy or clever camera tricks that Western broadcasters have learned. For example, Saddam

  would surely benefit from having a co-presenter; someone like Judy Finnegan with whom he could flirt on the Breakfast Time sofa before they glanced through next week's newspaper headlines.

  'So, Judy, what is next Wednesday's Baghdad Times saying?' he could ask with a little wink.

  'Well, Saddam, they've got you leading the victory parade over the vanquished Americans - and very handsome you look too!' and they'd share an affectionate giggle as they cut to their resident zany weatherman predicting a light south-easterly breeze giving way to huge clouds of oily smoke all over the country.

  So apart from losing the military battle, Saddam is also currently losing the propaganda war. These days military spending is wasted if you don't have the media back-up to show the war from your viewpoint. Alfred Hitchcock maintained that in a thriller the audience's sympathies had more to do with where you placed the camera than they did with accepted notions of morality. Take an everyday burglary, for example. Film it from the victim's point of view, following him as he walks nervously down the stairs because he's heard an intruder, and you are obviously on the homeowner's side. But if the camera had followed that burglar through the window and then suddenly he'd heard someone coming down the stairs, you'd think, 'Oh no, quick, get out!' And in this war it's the intruders who have got the most cameras. The Americans understand the Hitchcock Principle all too well, which is why they built an enormous media centre in the middle of the desert almost before they did anything else.

  More problematic Hollywood rules also apply, of course. The attention span of the modern audience is nowhere near as long as it used to be. In centuries gone by not only were the plays and epic poems much longer, but the wars were too. But there's no way that a modern scheduler could tolerate a six-year war today, not with all the competition from the movie channels and reality TV shows. That's why these days we only go to war against really easy opponents, to make sure it's all over before we start reaching for the remote control. Otherwise they'd have to come up with new ways to keep us all interested - introducing Fame Academy-style phone votes to let the viewers decide who wins the mother of all battles. 'If you want George Bush to win the war, phone or text the number on your screen now! If you want Saddam Hussein to win, phone this second number and hold for a visit from the CIA . . .'

  As it is, the new concept of twenty-four-hour slaughtertainment that's hit the airwaves is still compulsive television. The Oscars have had their lowest audience for years, because viewers want to catch the ending of the action adventure movie happening over on CNN. Perhaps this branch of showbiz should have its own awards ceremony. Best Supporting Actor: Tony Blair. Best Special Effects: the American Air Force. Best Editing: award to be shared between all the American news channels. George W. Bush would go up to the podium to collect his special award: 'I would like to thank my dad, without whom this war would not have been possible.' And then there would be a little bit of controversy and the microphone would disappear into the lectern because one or two speakers used the occasion to criticize Hollywood films they'd seen that didn't quite work for them.

  Except that they probably know it was Hollywood that taught them all the rules. America's point of view is dictated by the 'p.o.v.' in the movie director's meaning of the phrase. More westerners would have cried at the close-up human fiction in Saving Private Ryan than shed tears to see real-life explosions lighting up a distant Baghdad. No wonder the US military were so keen to destroy Baghdad's main television station this week. Mao said that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Now it comes out of the end of whichever gun has the cameras right behind it.

  Free market forces

  4 April 2003

  The following article is reprinted from the journal of the Washington Freedom Association, which has been hugely influential in shaping George W. Bush's foreign policy due to its uncompromising far-right Republican outlook in easy-to-read large print.

p; The war is now two weeks old and it seems incredible to many of us on Capitol Hill that Saddam Hussein has not yet surrendered. Has his translator not explained to him exactly what George Bush said: that 'Baghdad will endure bombardmentalization'? That 'the Iraqi people must be freed from this tyrannosaurus regime'? What bit of 'non-conditional capitulization' does Saddam not understand?

  The Washington Freedom Association is of the opinion that American foreign policy and the principles of free enterprise must go hand in hand. Yet we are permitting this war to be pursued by Federal Government instead of outsourcing the operation to American private companies. War pursued by central government necessitates higher levels of federal taxation and is thus incompatible with the very freedom for which American service personnel are risking their lives. 'Free enterprise warfare' would not only result in an army unfettered by federal bureaucracy, but by fielding an army employed by a limited company rather than a nation state, troops would not be impeded by

  excessive petty international regulations such as the Geneva Convention. In addition, the boost to share prices of the companies conducting the conflict would have a regenerative effect on the US economy as a whole. Already a number of private companies have put in tenders to the State Department to take over the running of the Iraq war. Our finest supermarkets already have large supplies of guns and ammunition on their shelves; Exxon have extensive experience in laying waste to large areas of countryside; Enron is looking for new spheres of influence; and there are many more companies that so enthusiastically share the President's vision of freedom that they contributed to his election campaign.

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