Forget the media hype about prime minister David Cameron stripping off his socks and wearing only his shoes on holiday. When it comes to politicians getting their kit off, the UK press is restraint itself compared to Denmark’s public prints. With the Danes due to hold a general election in the next few months, newspapers there, both tabloids and broadsheets, are carrying headlines disclosing what Danish voters “really want to know” about their political leaders. Is it their views on the war in Afghanistan? Or on early retirement? Or on global warming? No. What they are “itching to know” is whether there are any pictures of Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt in the nude.
No, don’t tut-tut like that. This is not a silly season story – at least it may be but it is serious stuff. Ms Thorning-Schmidt is ahead in the polls and is widely expected to become Denmark’s next prime minister. Furthermore, she has the closest political connections to the UK. The 44-year-old mother-of-two, a shapely blonde and a looker in any language, is married to Stephen Kinnock, son of our former Labour leader, Neil, and his wife Glenys both now in the House of Lords. Lord Kinnock has been calling for tighter controls over British newspapers. Heaven only knows what he thinks of the Danish ones.
The revelations about Denmark’s voters wanting to see Lord Kinnock’s daughter-in-law in the altogether is based on an analysis of the most popular searches on Google. A study by the Danish news agency Ritzau, found that the word most often entered alongside that of Helle Thorning-Schmidt was “naked”. This might have been dismissed as a piece of internet flummery except that it was carried by, among others, Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s biggest circulation paper. More predictably, perhaps, it appeared in BT, akin to The Mirror over here, and in Ekstra Bladet, which I am told, is roughly equivalent to The Sun. The whole tale is deeply politically incorrect of course but if you are a politician it may be a case of never mind the sexism, count the votes.
Could it happen here? The Danes have no desire to see their current, male PM, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, in his birthday suit – or as the Ekstra Bladet English version puts it “in adamcostume”. So Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband can relax – but keep your socks on chaps. Think of the collective media “phwoar” when Home Secretary Theresa May appeared in kinky leopard print shoes with all her clothes on.
First rioters use BlackBerrys with criminal intent, now come reports that we are moving to government by text. According to The Times, texts have the advantage of being “inaccessible to officials”. Texting at the cabinet table “would certainly be frowned upon” but some ministers are said to be sneaking BlackBerrys into cabinet meetings.
Hmm. Not according to Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary and our top civil servant. “We have a big box outside the cabinet room for Ministers to deposit their BlackBerrys before they meet,” he says. “It’s for security reasons – as we tell them. But it also stops them texting each other.”
Sir Gus was speaking at a Mile End Group seminar at Queen Mary, University of London. He and a predecessor, Lord Armstrong, were lifting the lid on the art of taking cabinet minutes. It was fascinating stuff and I shall return to it at a later date. For now, suffice it to say Sir Gus told an audience drawn from business, academe and Whitehall that he’s not just tough on texting.
“We don’t put the cabinet minutes on e-mail,” he said. “They would whizz round to far too many people – so we do it the old-fashioned way by paper.” So can cabinet ministers never escape the watchful eyes of the Sir Humphries?
Says Sir Gus: “The Coalition has political cabinets like previous governments and when that happens we act like the News of the World – we make our excuses and leave.” He smiled ruefully. “In future people won’t understand that.”
Filthy lucre ban
London’s riots make Parliament Square’s peace protesters seem sedate. Now driven out of the main square, which has been fenced off, they have pitched their tents in a neat row on the strip of pavement between the wire netting and the road. One tent bears the legend: ABOLISH MONEY. Oh dear! If ever there was a case for being careful what you wish for, this is surely it.