4 JANUARY 1992, Page 7


A demonstration of the drawbacks of human interest journalism


From time to time, when I have turned in a piece for this column which the editor regards as particularly abstract and tedious, he will sigh, and say, in his tone of kindly reproach, `Why don't you write something about people? I like it when you write about people.' So, as 1992 begins, let me turn over a new leaf, and try to oblige. Let me take you round the party and introduce you to some of the people who are going to make the Britain of the Nineties.

Meet Tony. Tony has a surname, but there's no need to use it because he's one of the approachable new breed of Tory politician that doesn't bother with all that stuffy nonsense. It's John, of course, who sets that style, and it trickles down all the way to Tony, who yields to no one in his admiration of John. Tony holds junior office in the Government, and is at the sharp end of implementing the Citizen's Charter. To set the right example, Tony has taken to wearing a name-badge. It just says `Tony'.

Tony thinks John has done a fantastic job. He (Tony) yielded to no one in his admiration of Margaret, and he thinks what's happened to her now is just terribly, terribly sad, but frankly, she was past her sell-by date. What Michael did was very divisive, says Tony, though, on a personal level, he admits, he has a lot of time for Michael. Thanks to John, the party has put all that bitterness behind it, and become a lot more user-friendly. Sure, it's been a very steep learning curve for Tony as for John. If you'd told Tony before November 1990 that he would be a Parliamentary Under- Secretary by now he would, he disarmingly confesses, have laughed in your face. But, as someone said, it's a funny old world. The economy? There are definite chinks of light bumping along the bottom. Tony thinks that John has shown enormous courage in sticking to the ERM where a lesser Prime Minister would have adjusted interest rates to reflect domestic condi- tions. The punters respect that. It took that sort of courage to make sure that the Kurds were safe too, but they are — safe as hous- es. Tony's fighting his marginal seat for all he's worth, which is, as a matter of fact, quite a lot, due to selling his estate agent's business in the Nigel Lawson era. If he finds more time on his hands after the elec- tion, Tony is very much up for grabs. Now, over there, not far from Tony, is another healthy-looking youngish man with neat but bouncy hair and a dark double- breasted suit. Funnily enough, he's called Tony too, but it's easy to tell them apart because this one wears a red rose in his buttonhole. If you watch Prime Minister's Questions on the television, you can some- times see that buttonhole and Tony just to the left of Gerald Kaufman's head, but three rows back.

Tony admits to being very much one of the new breed of designer socialists, but don't get him wrong. He's got radical fire in his belly. He learnt his politics in the National Union of Students and still pos- sesses a policeman's helmet which he picked up in the Grosvenor Square riot. Wife Pat teaches sometimes at a tough North London comprehensive. It's not that Tony's happy to sacrifice his beliefs; it's just that he's not going to allow himself the self- indulgence of ideological purity when the country is crying out for a Labour govern- ment. That's why Tony — who picked up a business school diploma somewhere along the way — has been happy to lunch in any City boardroom that will have him.

Although particularly close to John Smith, who has taken this young 43-year- old under his wing, ensuring that when Labour get back a PPSship will be his for the asking, Tony yields to no one in his admiration for Neil. Neil and the Labour Party have been on a very steep learning curve since the 1983 debacle, and Tony has been part of that. Like Neil, he has become `passionate about Europe'. Cautiously against the ERM until a couple of years ago, he then became cautiously in favour of it, and now wants to take the whole process one stage further, but not too fast. The Tories have squandered a great European opportunity for Britain because they have put party considerations first. That, says Tony, makes him angry, really angry.

'You say Boris, and 1 say Bark. . Just now, however, he doesn't look angry at all. He's deep in conversation with Jaci Nowalsky.

Jaci Nowalsky! Now there's a feisty lady, as you can see at a glance by her feisty orange leggings and equally feisty Walk- man. It was Jaci who scandalised the stuffed shirts at the Beeb by telling them, in public, that they were a 'load of old wank- ers'. Promotion followed fast and soon Jaci was giving a whole new look to late-night television. The Christmas show which fea- tured the release of a room-full of multi- coloured inflated condoms was almost too much for the establishment, but when Jaci appeared before the Governors, she talked so movingly about how her former partner had died of Aids that they backed down.

For Jaci is serious, serious in her hatred of racism, in her dedication to her career, and serious, in a creative and thoroughly Nineties way, about making money. She left the BBC last year after a complicated inter- personal situation in which, she explains, her own vulnerability surprised her. Now her independent production company, Upfront, is, as envious competitors admit, the business. After the long dark night of Thatcherism, Jaci thinks there's a real chance for a new, woman-dominated, brand-conscious, environment-friendly, European culture. What, with grey John Major in charge? She laughs feistily: 'Well, he's on a very steep learning curve. But I'll tell you something: the guy's sexy!'

They say the same about Piet Haagen- Dazs, over there in the corner screwing up his keen blue eyes as if against the desert sun. Piet carries all the agony and guilt of his native South Africa and unloads it on eager London publishers. Now 33, he has been unable to visit the country since the age of five because of persecution. Under de Klerk, his books are no longer actually banned, but Piet realises that to go back would be to compromise himself. Exiled in London, he constructs a series of intricate, beautifully realised, savage, magical novels.

His latest, The Singing Blood, not yet writ- ten, is favourite for this year's Booker

Prize. It says a lot, he tells me, not just about South Africa, but about our own, more insidious apartheid, about language, about how we in the West can face our- selves as the century ends.

And over there — Oh, I'm sorry, you don't look very well. Perhaps that's enough people.