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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 25th July 2004

Will the Government Strip the BBC of its Charter?


If I worked for the Beeb, I wouldn't be too alarmed by Tessa Jowell's report purporting to show that two-thirds of the public want to scrap the licence fee. If this Government's track record is anything to go by, the Culture Secretary will do a great deal of sabre rattling over the next 18 months and then renew the BBC's Charter on almost exactly the same terms as before.

The BBC is just another of those great British institutions, like the House of Lords, that the Government is constantly threatening to dismantle, only to leave them more or less in tact at the end of the day. Last week it was the Royal Navy's officer training college at Dartmouth; the week before that it was the honours system. No doubt next week it'll be something else. (Fox hunting's always a good one. Tony Blair has been promising to abolish that particular tradition since 1997, yet every summer the huntsmen still gather on the village green.)

You have to ask yourself why the Government bothers. Why announce that you're going to take apart some much-loved institution--and then do absolutely nothing?

One reason, obviously, is to keep Labour's backbenchers happy. The Prime Minister himself may be a product of Oxford and Lincoln's Inn, but he depends upon the support of a horde of anti-Establishment radicals, each bent on class war. If he can give them the impression that he's got the Telegraph-readers on the run, they'll continue to vote with the Government.

But even Labour's backbenchers, when they take a break from fiddling their expenses, must realise that Tony Blair has no real intention of dismantling any of these institutions. Why bother to keep up the charade?

The answer, I think, is to disguise the fact that New Labour is an essentially conservative political force. It's not simply his backbenchers that Blair is trying to hoodwink, but the electorate as well. Government ministers may preach radical reform, but in reality they're no different from their Tory predecessors.

What's needed is a new phrase, like "champagne socialists" or "limousine liberals", to describe those who practise this particular form of hypocrisy. The best I can come up with is "Chiantishire Conservatives": they may live in Islington and spend their summer holidays in Tuscany, but they pose no more threat to the Establishment than the Beefeaters outside Buckingham Palace.

Animal Wrongs

Congratulations to the animal rights lobby for managing to dissuade the Montpellier Group from building a new medical research laboratory at Oxford. Admittedly, 98% of the animals that Oxford was planning to keep there would have been rodents, but someone has to speak up for lab rats.

I can't help feeling, though, that the energies of animal rights activists might be better spent elsewhere. They seem to devote all their time to protecting animals from human beings when by far the greatest threat to their welfare is posed by other animals.

If animals have rights, and we have a moral obligation to uphold those rights, then shouldn't we be protecting them from other animals as well as two-legged predators? In the grand scheme of things, far more rodents are killed by birds of prey than they are by research scientists, so why single out the boffins?

Surely, the activists would save far more lives if they devoted themselves to patrolling the animal kingdom, protecting each species from the one immediately above it in the food chain, instead of harassing the men in white coats. Of course, they'd have to find some alternative source of nourishment to satisfy the carnivores, but that would be a small price to pay for all the good they'd do.

Defending animals from other animals might not have quite the same emotional appeal as saving them from evil scientists, but if I was a field mouse I'd still be extremely grateful for the effort.

Bride & Prejudice

Sophie Dahl is often criticised for losing weight, thereby relinquishing her role as the only supermodel who looked like a "real" woman. Well, for all those plus size fashion editors out there, I have some good news. There's a new distaff celebrity in town and her name is Aishwarya Rai.

Aishwarya plays the Elizabeth Bennett character in Bride & Prejudice, the Bollywood version of Jane Austin's classic novel. I went to a screening last week and in spite of the fact that the performances are wildly uneven, the sets look as though they're held together with Sellotape and Copydex and the third act is a mess, it oozes charm from every pore. I'm not sure it'll be a hit, but it confirms the fact that director Gurinder Chadha, who was also responsible for Bend It Like Beckham, is a real talent.

Aiswarya isn't fat, exactly, so much as full-figured. She could certainly give J-Lo a run for her money in the booty department. Her face, though, is hauntingly beautiful. It leaps off the screen and penetrates straight into the cerebral cortex. She's like an Indian version of Julie Christie. If I worked for a large cosmetics company, I'd sign her up in a heartbeat.

Fully Committed

If you happen to live in South-East London, and you're stuck for something to do one night, I'd recommend a trip to the Menier Chocolate Factory to see a play called Fully Committed. A one-man show set in a trendy, Manhattan restaurant, I first saw it five years ago and I liked it so much I'm going to see it a second time this week. (It's running until August 29.)

The play unfolds over the course of a single day and chronicles the efforts of a lowly member of staff to cope with one crisis after another. The actor, Mark Setlock, embodies over a dozen characters, including Naomi Campbell, who demands a last-minute table for 15, a cosmopolitan couple who've just come back from Tibet and a man who's main claim to fame is that he invited Velcro. There's even a cameo by Gordon Ramsay, who's been slotted in for the benefit of London audiences.

In addition to being very funny, Fully Committed manages to encapsulate an entire world in just an hour and fifteen minutes. The writer, Becky Mode, has hit upon the clever device of using an ultra-fashionable restaurant as a metaphor for New York high society. As someone who existed on the fringes of this world for five years I can confirm that she skewers all its foibles, particularly it's obsession with every conceivable status indicator, with deadly accuracy.

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Twitter RT @JoJohnsonUK: It's time to debunk the myth surrounding two-year degrees link  (6 hours ago)

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