Watching Brief - Amanda Platell tips Portillo for a new job

Michael Portillo said on <em>Breakfast with Frost</em> that, as a child, he had two ambitions - to b

When the Director of Public Prosecutions says that all Brits are racist, it is on a par with the late-20th-century feminists' claim that all men are rapists. They are not. It is dangerous and misguided thinking, and should make the minister responsible for his appointment think seriously about this man's suitability for the job.

Sir David Calvert-Smith said on BBC Radio 4's On the Ropes: "It is my firm belief that British society is institutionally racist . . . the whole of society has a problem." This statement is the kind of ludicrous, well-meaning, liberal claptrap intended to be a wake-up call to the nation, but instead makes the concept of racism meaningless, and indeed something so commonplace as to be normal. Instead of demonising everyone, as his statement was intended to do, it absolves everyone, and thereby places what is arguably one of the great threats to modern societies on the same moral level as gluttony.

Britain does not have a Le Pen, but if the cavalier Calvert-Smith continues with this nonsense, and so succeeds in destroying public confidence in the criminal justice system, then he opens the door to the real threat of extremism.

All credit, however, to the excellent On the Ropes, which could, what with the performances on it of late, be renamed Give Them Enough Rope . . .

As for Calvert-Smith, he should stick to his day job of convicting criminals, instead of trying to lay the blame for his record at the door of decent, law-abiding, colour-blind people.

Michael Portillo appeared on Breakfast with Frost promoting his new television career and waning lyrical about the European dream.

He said that, as a child, he had two ambitions - to be Prime Minister and to be David Frost. He declared that he had given up all hope of the former; a rather stunned Sir David was left wondering if this was in fact a rather public bid for his own job. He was not alone. Within the BBC, it is believed that Sir David is to Greg Dyke what Camilla Parker-Bowles is to Prince Charles - "non-negotiable", so talk of a replacement is at the very least premature. But talk there is.

Portillo is undeniably charismatic, articulate and highly intelligent. He also looks good on telly. Whether he would be able to do a Beckham and go from being the most despised man in Britain to a national treasure, which both the Davids are, is another question.

Du pain avec Portillo. The Wagnerian ring of fire has been rejected in favour of a circle of sofas, but still it has a ring to it.

For a country that's itching to cut its formal links with the "motherland", when it comes down to it, Australia is pretty steeped in the early part of the 20th century - and this is never more obvious than in questions of sport. The World Cup has revealed that the Diggers' world-view has not changed much since VP Day in August 1945.

They were desperate for England to win, heartbroken when the valiant Irish were defeated, sneered when the Italians had their noses rubbed in the dirt (always were a bunch of dirty cowards) and celebrated when the French gave in (they always do, you know - over here, Paris is known as surrender city).

And the Turks, well, the views here about this tenacious mob of cheats are unprintable. After Gallipoli, what can you expect?

Now I know how Steve Bing feels - is there no escaping that woman? Even on the other side of the world, Liz Hurley is everywhere, the new Diana of the antipodes.

The news-stands are stuffed with pictures of Liz's breastfeeding bosoms, headlines screaming: "Billionaire Bing is father of Liz's baby" (well, the Australian dollar is rather weak at the moment), "How I lost my baby fat fast" and "Liz's private hell". Bing's public hell, more like it.

For all her sins - and ambition is surely her greatest - Cherie Booth has always remained true to her beliefs. A republican to the core, she refuses to curtsy to the Queen, and stays put on her not-inconsiderable posterior in front of royalty at every opportunity.

Politically, she cherishes Tony Benn above Tony Blair. Cherie is a socialist. So when she expressed an opinion on the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers, saying that, "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress", she was doing something that does not come easily to members of the Blair household - she was saying what she believed.

As her husband's personal credibility takes a hammering, with one poll showing that 56 per cent of British people no longer think that he tells the truth, and as his party overtakes the Tories in being "sleazy and disreputable", at least Cherie is staying true to her principles.

This article first appeared in the 01 July 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the affair?