In seeking a metaphor for new Labour now, an analogy with GM foods comes to mind

Another year gone, and in just over a month we'll be celebrating the second anniversary of new Labour. I say celebrating; more marking with a Channel 4 special looking back over the past 12 months of Labour government. I use the word "Labour" loosely, but not as loosely as they use the word "government". Sometimes I feel encouraged; at other times I feel the country is being run by a combination of opinion pollsters, management consultants and damage-limitation experts.

I remember when Tony Blair took over from John Major I thought, "My God. What on earth am I going to do now?" But that's OK, because I now realise that's exactly what he was thinking.

A vote against new Labour in May 1997 would have been a vote against hope: Things Could Only Get Better. But, for the image-makers, things could only get worse. In terms of news management, he who lives by the word dies by the word. The irony of an administration that has thrived on leaks yet slapped an injunction on a newspaper for pre-empting publication of the Lawrence report was not lost on anyone.

Much hard work has been done down in what the rugby commentator Bill McLaren would call "the boilerhouse" - Dobson, Blunkett and Brown toiling away in the scrum while the pretty-boy three-quarters catch the eye, drop the ball or squander the overlap. Yet the sense remains of a job half done. Redistribution is still the policy that dare not speak its name. In seeking a metaphor for Labour now, the analogy with GM foods comes to mind. In both cases the experiments have not yet yielded any definite conclusions; there is already evidence that people are suffering, and no one knows what the consequences will ultimately be. All that remains is to brand Labour as genetically modified Conservatives and dismiss Paddy Ashdown as variant CJD and the whole crazy picture is complete. But then, I did eat beef on the bone last weekend.


Whatever else new Labour may prove to be, we may at least be sure that Blair wants this country to be more European in outlook. Many feel this is unrealistic, and that any referendum would reassert the national desire to remain British. But I have to say that, with truckers blocking the centre of the capital, farmers seeking new ways to vent their anger and MPs being disqualified for corruption, this country feels more like Europe every day.


Open prisons must be fascinating places. A friend told me at the weekend that there are now 12 old Etonians in Ford Open and they have put together a cricket side for the summer. Among the fixtures is a date with the Eton Ramblers. I imagine all the fielders want to be placed as near to the boundary as possible, while the batsmen are lobbying for the old schoolboy rule that if you hit a six, you're out.


I've been translating a Kurt Weill/Georg Kaiser "opera", to be performed from next week at Wilton's Music Hall in London. Reviving this gem of a Victorian theatre with a little-performed masterpiece, offering low prices and pay-what-you-can nights, has become an overriding mission. I never would have realised the obstacles - not least the media myth that opera is for toffs. The dumbing-down, "you say opera, I say Oprah" approach bores and enrages me in equal measure. Finding sponsorship (from BP, Jewson and Vivien Duffield among others), cadging help and spreading the word mean that putting on a show such as this is like working through an advent calendar, each window needing a combination of belief, determination and relentless optimism to prise it open.


Crossing the piazza in Covent Garden after the Opera House "topping out" ceremony, I'm accosted by two gypsies. One puts a piece of heather into my lapel; the other fixes me like the Ancient Mariner. "Make a wish, love," she says. If this happens to you, I strongly recommend that you wish she'd go away. I might then have avoided what followed. "I can tell you're unhappy, love. Let me lift the curse on you. Have you got some paper money for me, love?"

I gave her £20 but strangely didn't feel any happier. In fact I felt considerably less happy, a feeling that grew as she asked for more. To my relief, my wallet was now empty, but she wasn't happy. "Haven't you got any credit cards, love?" She then took me by the hand and marched me to a cashpoint machine where I meekly drew out a further £180. Still no immediate sensation of happiness, it has to be said, although her luck had certainly changed. Fortunately we stopped there, just as I was having visions of accompanying her to Harrods to buy her a new kitchen suite, Bang and Olufsen stereo and a set of Ping golf clubs.

The power of superstition! Next time I'm desperately trying to raise sponsorship for a theatre project, bollocks to writing letters to corporate donors. I'm off to the piazza with a sprig of heather.


The former Australian premier Paul Keating must have felt quite cocky at a recent dinner hosted by Rupert Murdoch: he was seated next to, and basking in the attention of, one of his country's favourite daughters, the former Wonderbra model Sarah O'Hare. When the coffee arrived, though, his gorgeous neighbour turned to him. "Tell me," she purred, "do I detect an Australian accent?"

"The Silver Lake" opens on 1 April at Wilton's. Box office 0171-420 0000

Rory Bremner writes for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 26 March 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Eating people is wrong