7 AUGUST 2004, Page 9

Las Vegas Ivv hatever else we import from American politics, please

let us avoid the appalling new practice of requiring children to give testimonials on behalf of their parents. I was sitting with my 11-year-old daughter in our VIP suite in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, waiting for John Kerry to come on CNN, when my blood ran cold. Not one but two Kerry daughters were produced to give speeches in praise of Kerry the loving Pop. This is America, of course, where top politics has Hollywood production values, and both speeches were impeccably charming. One of the girls, Alexandra, told of the time when the Kerry hamster fell, in its cage, off a New England dock, and the weeping Kerry children watched it bubble to the depths. It was a reverse Chappaquidick, with the hamster as Mary Jo Kopechne, and Kerry an anti-Teddy Kennedy, hurling himself after the trapped critter. The tale will have done him no end of good. But is it really right to ask children to give these crucial reviews of our political suitability, like the teenage delators of Ceausescu's Romania? I stole a glance at my daughter, She was watching beadily.

We startled room service at 4 a.m. by having smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, waffles, strawberries, syrup, bacon, pints of cawfee and 0J, Outside Vegas winked and strobed with colossal neon representations of rhinestone-covered buttocks, and I felt Mark Steyn-style surges of enthusiasm for America and her energy. This town is expanding by 7,000 per month, and all night long — we watched — the hard-hatted ants crawl over the west wing of Caesars Palace. In Britain we are so nocturnally idle that we are punching out barely 1,7 kids per mum, and if we were inclined to build a hotel in the middle of the night, we'd be forbidden by the EU Working Time Directive.

Qne of the points of being in Vegas is to study the impact of gambling on the soul. The place is full of Brits — 325,000 UK visitors last year, up 25 per cent on the year before — and this autumn a controversial casino Bill comes before the Commons. Everywhere from Bognor to Blackpool to the Dome could be turned into a kind of Vegas, complete with pole dancers and cultralounges'; and the Vegas mob look at us and lick their lips. When the draft Bill was presented to the Commons last year, I gave a speech of simple libertarianism. Having watched the punters here, the lizard

concentration, the smoking, the tinsel selfdelusion, the robotic lever-pulling, I have started to have my doubts.

Mind you, most of the money in Vegas is now made in the ancillary trades. The city fathers have decided that their slogan is 'sin city', and everywhere are hoardings saying things like '0800 1234 GIRLS', while Peruvian comunali hand out the lavishly illustrated manifestos of Mandi or Consuela, who volunteer to be in your room 'within 20 minutes'. In fact, the general sinfulness is so exuberant that it fails to be decently sinful.

Ken-y's speech is thought to have been well judged, especially his attack on the Iraq war. 'When I am Commander-in-Chief, America will go to war because we have to, not because we want to' (ovation). But hang on a mo. This guy voted for the war, Surely there is something unseemly in first supporting a deeply divisive military operation and then — when it seems to go wrong — in standing up to tell the troops they have been dying in vain. Does Kerry support the war? Yes or no? That's the question Bush should ask, and keep asking.

Our flight home was delayed and we had a few hours to kill in LA, so we cabbed it to Santa Monica and conducted the traditional interrogation of the ArmenianUkrainian taxi driver. Bush or Kerry? 'I don't really care but! like Bush. He make joke. He keep it simple. He bang-bang,' and he took his hands off the wheel to clap them.

It was lovely on the pier at Santa Monica. We gazed at the Pacific and at the hills of LA turning blue and hazy in the setting sun. A bend), Chinese man was doing some extraordinary tricks, twirling balls on his fingers and nose. Now he approached the piece de resistance. He had four glasses of water on a plexiglass plate, on top of which was another plexiglass plate and another glass

of water. What was he going to do? 'Come croser! Come croser!' he ordered, and we crowded round. But this is America, home of the enterprise culture, and the proprieties had to be observed. 'Put money first!' barked the Chinese, indicating his bucket. A few of us shuffled forward, and shelled out dollars or quarters. 'You put money!' he said to a man he suspected of bilking. 'I check!' At length, when the bottom of the bucket had been decently covered, he braced his bandy knees, shut his eyes, flexed his fingers, produced a three-ft metal pole on which he balanced the whole lot, and then supported the pole on his chin. He did a little jig. He's probably a particle physicist at Caltech.

We walked in the dusk down the seaside, from Santa Monica to Venice Beach, and noted the ethnic composition of southern California, which has been rightly compared to the bar scene in Star Wars. Past us on the tarmac ribbon flowed the population of the future, with their spaceage aids to locomotion: rollerblades, electric scooters, petrol scooters, weird pretzelframed bikes and, best of all, a bicycle powered not by pedalling but by brachiation. I mean it. He was sitting in the normal bicycle posture. But he was rowing the handlebars. It's a remicycle, the answer to the arthritic knee. I gotta have one.

After about half an hour we came to Venice Beach, and hung out at a progressive health food restaurant called the Figleaf. It was getting a bit parky, so we ordered organic hot chocolate and while we waited for this to turn up (it took some time) we were entertained by the local black crusties, who were packing up their New Age stalls (Palm Reading, Horoscopes, Poetry, ect ect) and swearing at each other in a gentle, crack-crazed way. 'I wanna — your sister'. `Mud--er.' 'What kind of dog is that anyhow?—It's an Alsatian-wolfhound, man.' 'My dog gon' bite your dog.' Mud—aaah.' And so on, until it was time for the plane.

?This diary is dedicated to the charming 1 woman with the slight Italian accent who came to our rescue at Cagliari airport. It is to Britain's immense credit that we are still so trusting as to offer free luggage trolleys. You won't find them in America, home of enterprise, and in Italy they cost two euros. We were scrabbling pathetically when a coin appeared in the air beside us, held in a beautiful outstretched hand. 'Here,' she said. 'It is only because I love-a your magazine.' Now that, I thought, is the stuff to give the troops.