22 JULY 1995, Page 7


ANDREW MARR We now enter the interminable politi- cal summer, running from mid-July to the end of October, when British democracy is suspended and the Commons becomes a semi-deserted museum. Mind you, in the final few days, we had one splendid reminder of how irrelevant and disconnect- ed it is becoming even when it is in session. The order paper for 13 July had down the preliminary draft European budget for 1996, which amounts to £2.7 billion of tax- payers' money, in the name of the Prime Minister, Mr Secretary Heseltine, and so on. It was followed by two Scottish motions relating to Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions: Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) orders. As the Labour MP Andrew Macicinley protested, the Euro-budget motion was allotted ... er, well, no time for debate, actually. And the paralytic shell- fish? Well they, the little darlings, got a Possible total of three hours. Now it is reas- suring that our legislature is able to lavish so much attention on drunk Caledonian shellfish, and one has no wish to seem churlish or to underestimate their disad- vantages. Even so, the sense of national pri- orities involved seems just a little odd.

Meanwhile, one of the minor irrita- tions of the Commons is the way that the writers for Hansard bowdlerise what MPs say. Here's one small example. During the debate that followed the seizure of Srebrenica, the Labour defence spokes- man, David Clark, made a terrible opening Speech. He began it by congratulating Malcolm Rifkind and adding in a special, very sincere and meaningful voice that he only wished they were meeting in 'less sober circumstances'. Hansard reported Clark as wishing for 'rather less sombre cir- cumstances'. It might have been what he meant. It wasn't what he said.

My week, though, has been dominated by the fact that I have been humiliated, cast down, defeated and rendered a person of no consequence in my own estimation. It all started last Christmas, when I was given a bow tie. Not any old bow tie, but a large tartan one, shimmering with scarlets and oranges, vivid dark-green trickles and lus- trous pinks. A glowing, coruscating, knock- `em-dead-on-a-moonless-night bow tie, a flaming emblem of innumerable forgotten ancestors and time-distilled, colour- drenched remembrance of things past — You know, that sort of bow tie. Finally, last week, I lifted it out of the sepulchral dark- ness of the sock drawer and put it on, walked downstairs, arrived, feeling sudden- ly a bigger man, at the door of the kitchen. The wife turns with a solemn expression. She looks hard. She whitens. She speaks: 'You look like a jerk. You are not wearing that to work.' She then leaps into move- ment, pursuing me with a bottle of tomato ketchup in a vain attempt to destroy the tie (this is all true). Ruffled, offended, I evade her and go for a long look in the mirror. A jerk stares back. Damn. A trick of the light. I am not to be put off. As I leave the house, the wife says menacingly, apropos a dinner- party with media folk, 'If you arrive wear- ing it this evening, I'll divorce you.' All day, wherever I go, the tie gets there first. At the Independent there are sickly smiles, avoided eye-glances. David Aaronovitch, our chief leader-writer, sneers as I leave for the Commons, 'Off for a spot of lunch with Simon Heifer, are we?' At Westminster, another colleague: Ilmm. Very 1983. Very Thatcher think-tankie.' Down in the lobby, Diane Abbott MP makes a gagging noise as she passes, and a hack pretends to mistake me for Dr Madsen Pine. What is this about bow ties and the radical Right? Anyway, I am finally defeated. Bow-shouldered, not bow-tied, I go and buy a dull blue conven- tional tie and traitorously shed the Neck- wear of Distinction, the Fragment of Glory. It is now back in the sock drawer, whence at the hour before cock-crow a faint, rebuk- ing redness still flickers. By the accumula- tion of such small defeats is a second-rate lifetime constructed .. .

'We'll run the story with a picture of Virginia Bottomley topless.' Tamp, tramp, tramp ... the remorse- less march of the sports fascists echoes through the land once more. This malign crusade by John Major and lain Sproat to force British children to undertake group physical activity is deeply depressing. Major tells Tory backbenchers he believes in pushing back the state and then acts like some collectivist air-force colonel from the Middle Volta. It's because he has a sentimental attachment to his cricketing days. It's lucky he wasn't keen on ballet, isn't it?, or all young Britons would be being ordered to parade in spangled tutus at 6 a.m. every Saturday. Anyway, he has the national character all wrong. The vast majority of Britons do like team sports, but only from the right perspective — which means when they are parked in front of a television set with a copious sup- ply of super-strength lager and a glutton- sized pack of Cheesie Wotsits close at hand. They don't like playing it. Quite right too. I have recently experienced this summer's 'fathers' match' at my son's (voluntary, non-statist, no pressure applied) Saturday football club. I hate foot- ball. But Harry was keen, staring up at me with a mixture of proud optimism and jus- tified trepidation. What could I do? Just before I was going on I asked a tough- looking dad whether he was playing too. Nah, he said, they all took it far too seri- ously. There were these awful injuries. Then the whistle blew. Sur- rounded by nonchalantly competent foot- ballers who stayed in roughly the same position, I raced gamely after the ball all over the pitch, up-down, up-down, like a pathetic pink retriever. So when I got home, it made me want to get that great fat white-pudding-faced Sproat person and load him with an 80-pound backpack and make him jog up Snowdon a dozen times. Then he could go on telly and lec- ture the rest of us about fitness.

Aid now to France. So infuriated am I by the nuclear testing issue that I have resolved, with no thought of personal dan- ger or discomfort, to carry my protest to the heart of enemy territory. I am going to the Bordeaux coast, where I intend to occupy French beach-space and consume large quantities of French wine in order to prevent them getting their greedy, uranium-stained fingers on it. That should teach them. Then I'm going to eat every paralytic shellfish in the south of France. I wonder if Greenpeace hands out medals for conspicuous gallantry?

Andrew Marr is political commentator for the Independent.