17 MAY 2003, Page 10

I n addition to being the first Briton since Churchill to

get the Congressional Medal of Honour. the Prime Minister will be the first Briton ever to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honour for International Leadership. The medals are given to 'outstanding Americans who. . . through struggle. sacrifice and success, helped build this great nation'. The PM is unable to make this month's ceremony — a shame, as it would have offered him the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with another outstanding American: the poodle-headed soft-rocker Michael Bolton, a fellow medallist this year.

How have last week's local elections affected the great Rifkind Plot? There is a convoluted scheme, much favoured by John Major, to parachute Malcolm Rifkind into Windsor and Maidenhead, a Tory stronghold which falls vacant at the next election. The idea is that the urbane and impressive Scot will be perfectly placed thence to launch a bid for the Tory leadership. The only fly in the ointment appears to be the people of Windsor and Maidenhead, who last week threw out the Tory council. To sharpen Rifkind's dilemma, the Tories actually won in Edinburgh Pentlands, his former seat. Tough call, Malcolm.

This week the £5,000 T.E. Utley Memorial Prize — created in honour of the late, brilliant political writer Peter Utley — was awarded to Ginny Bonavia, an undergraduate at his old Cambridge college, Corpus Christi. She will use the prize money to fund an investigation somewhat outside Peter Utley's old 'beat', with the title 'Land of Opportunities? Poverty and Youth Culture on American Indian Reservations'. Congratulations to her, and good luck.

Should a Butterfly-Who-Stamped Award be inaugurated, on the other hand, for hubris among pundits, it would this week go to the Independent's precocious teenage columnist Johann Hari. 'It is time we all admitted three basic facts: William does not want to be king: he hates the idea of being king; he will not be king — ever,' he writes. 'When I first suggested this .. . more than a year ago, professional royal watchers reacted with embarrassed silence. They exist in the comfy world of briefings from the Palace, and they rely on patronage for every strained line of sycophantic copy. Royal correspondents are very reluctant to break the party line and bite the velvet-gloved hand that feeds them, and they know almost nothing about the younger royals. Publicly, then, they scoffed; privately, I suspect, they sweated.' How much better to be silently scoffed at than simply to be ignored!

Thus Tony Parsons's latest contribution to the debate over female body selfimage: 'It is becoming commonplace for female stars to say how happy they are to be a bit on the porky side . . . but we have heard all this guff before. . . . Baby Spice Emma Bunton has just ditched her chunky figure with a very moderate exercise regime, and she looks terrific. In fact. at 27, Emma finally looks like a hot young woman instead of someone's auntie. I have never understood why fat women are considered morally superior to thin women. Where's the moral high ground in letting yourself go?' Who could Mr Parsons — once married to the larger-than-life Julie Burchill. who memorably described him as looking like `an old, sick, balding rhesus monkey' — have had in the back of his mind?

Every morning on my way through the plashy fen to work, I am forced to quest beneath an advertisement for a scent from the designer Alexander McQueen. Is there anything in the world more screamingly naff, more grindingly boneheaded, than clothes designers making their own stinkwater — unless it's the people who encourage them by buying it? Do plumbers 'diversify' into motocross? Do classical composers 'roll out their brands' by publishing articles on particle physics? The insufferable Franglais of the strapline adds insult to injury: 'The new parfum'. New parfum? Why not `A nouveau perfume'? It would not only mean something in English, but it would tell the customers what they were getting. Acuriously obsequious gossip item appeared in the Evening Standard the other day. 'Lady Antonia Fraser was on great form when she gave a very witty speech for literary agent Mike Shaw whose retirement from Curtis Brown was celebrated with a party at Century in Shaftesbury Avenue last night,' it burbled. 'Fraser, accompanied by husband Harold Pinter, provoked much laughter. . . . 'And so on and so forth. 'That item was written by Veronica [Wadley, editor of the Evening Standard]: I'm told. Is Miss Wadley a creature of limitless and uncalculating goodwill, I wonder — or is the newspaper angling for something?

The issue of two new CD compilations from the British Library's sound archives — including the voices of poets and writers from as early as 1889— is greatly to be celebrated. And among its many curiosities is a valuable footnote to literary history. Its recording of a 1932 reading by W.B. Yeats includes an introduction, in which the poet reveals that the inspiration for his poem 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' came not from the roiling mists of the Celtic Twilight, nor even from the dizzying effect on his mind of his visionary gyres, but rather from a soft-drink ad in a London shop window. 'I wrote the poem in London when I was about 23,' he recalls. 'One day in the Strand I heard a little tinkle of water and saw on a shop window a little jet of water balancing a ball on the top. It was, I think, an advertisement for cooling drinks, but it set me thinking of Sligo and lake water. .. .

Christopher Priest, one of six writers up for this year's Arthur C. Clarke Award — the Booker Prize of the science-fiction world — starts with something of an advantage. He had the good fortune, or prescience, to dedicate his shortlisted novel, The Separation, to Paul Kincaid, the chairman of the judges.

poignant that the last words that Adam 1 Faith uttered, before expiring in the arms of his 23-year-old mistress, were: 'Channel 5 is all s***, isn't it? Christ, the crap they put on there. It's a waste of space.' It is of course inconceivable that the poor quality of the station's 'erotic drama' could have been a major factor in the Budgie star's heart attack, but it is only fair to ask Channel 5 for their side of the story. Have they made a statement? 'No,' says their spokesman Paul Leather. Will they be doing so? 'No.' A rebuttal? 'No.' Condolences? 'No.' Sigh. 'Bye bye!' says Mr Leather.