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Diary

Diary

If you have started to fear that Tesco, that rampaging retail beast, is running the country, then you may be right

17 January 2007

3:27 PM

17 January 2007

3:27 PM

If you have started to fear that Tesco, that rampaging retail beast, is running the country, then you may be right. Let me explain. When Time magazine made everyone who uses the internet their ‘Person of the Year’ last month, it got us all thinking about the nature of ‘power’ in the modern technological age. In pre-internet days, power was fairly easily definable. Politicians and newspaper proprietors essentially ran the country, because they decided how we led our lives, how we got our news, and how we thought. But the emergence of the world wide web has changed everything.  I recently interviewed Gordon Brown for a forthcoming GQ ‘power’ issue, and he was fascinatingly honest about the erosion of political influence under this cyperspace onslaught. ‘I think that the level of influence the state has on society now is far less than it used to be,’ he conceded. ‘The internet is so powerful, everyone is blogging, commercial advertising is moving online. So the power is moving to the people. And politicians therefore have less power than they used to have.’ When I asked him to elaborate, he went further: ‘I think that we are now living in the iPod generation, where people want to make decisions about how they lead their lives, and now they have a lot more flexibility to do so. They want to exercise more power over their lives. And politicians have to respond to that new challenge. So in many ways, government in future is going to be more about directing people and enabling them to do what they want to do, than about telling or ordering them what to do, as it perhaps was too much in the past.’

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And as for newspapers, Brown said: ‘I think papers can still set an agenda. But their editorial influence on people is a great deal less than it used to be, because of the internet. A paper selects information from events that it considers a priority, be that from an editorial or commercial standpoint or otherwise. But then you have Google or Yahoo, where you can tap in a subject or news event and get hundreds of thousands of stories about it in seconds — much of it wrong, much irrelevant, but a lot of it very informative. And newspapers cannot compete with that.’ So who does have power in Britain now, if it isn’t the rulers of Westminster and Fleet Street? ‘Sometimes I think that the most powerful and influential people in Britain are those who run big charities, social enterprises, businesses that exercise corporate responsibility,’ said Brown. ‘They are some of the most powerful drivers of change at the moment. And politics is competing with them.’ When I pushed him to name names, he said: ‘OK, well, clearly some of our leading industrialists like John Browne at BP, and Terry Leahy at Tesco.’  So, with Lord Browne now gone, that leaves Terry Leahy, boss of Tesco, as the most powerful man in the country — according to our next Prime Minister. Food, quite literally, for thought.


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Why is anybody surprised that David Beckham has gone to Hollywood?  He’s an ageing, waning, footballing clothes-horse who has always been more attracted to the glitz and glamour of celebrity than the hard graft of a rainy night in Wigan. Now he’s going to be paid £500,000 a week to be top dog in a league of useless one-footed mongrels, and spend the rest of his time on Malibu beach with his mate, Tom Cruise. Life can’t get much better than that for an inarticulate, ill-educated Essex boy. And there’s always the chance that Mrs Beckham might actually learn to smile. After all, as John Updike wrote: ‘America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.’ I worked in Los Angeles all last summer as a judge on an NBC talent show (think Simon Cowell without the looks, brains or wit) and I loved it. The sun shines, the people are friendly, the food’s good, and they absolutely adore Brits. The Hollywood crowd are also a bunch of teetotal, vain, paranoid, bitchy, cosmetically enhanced health freaks. So one way or another Victoria should feel at home. 

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One of the more interesting aspects of the unsavoury Ruth Kelly private-school scandal is the fact that so many kids these days are being diagnosed as having ‘special needs’. When I was a boy, this meant you were mentally subnormal, sported a body like John Merrick, and had to be kept in a steel cage for your own protection. But in modern Britain, one in ten schoolchildren is now officially deemed to have some form of dyslexia or vague ‘learning/reading difficulty.’ Including my nine-year-old middle son, Stanley. Being a positive kind of chap, Stanley has instantly turned this alleged affliction to his advantage. Every mistake he makes in any subject is now solemnly blamed on ‘my dyslexia’. And when asked to perform a menial chore, he declines, saying, ‘Sorry, Dad, but I’m feeling particularly dyslexic today.’ My favourite line, though, came this morning, when Stanley declared, ‘I’m going to be as rich as Richard Branson.’ When I asked what he based this theory on, he replied, ‘Because we’re both dyslexic.’

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Is it just me, or does the only person who doesn’t seem remotely bothered by paparazzi intrusion into Kate Middleton appear to be …Kate Middleton? I’ve rarely seen anyone enjoy the attentions of a camera lens quite like Prince William’s current squeeze. There are many things young Kate will miss about life with her Prince if they ever split up, and among them, unlikely as it may sound, will be the photographers.


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