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Will anyone listen to the views of farmers?

The political landscape is changing, with a new Prime Minister, Cabinet reshuffles and shifts of power around the United Kingdom, but, when the music stops, we can be sure that one thing will not have changed. Those in power will, like those who write about public affairs, come from our large cities. The landscape itself will be scantly represented. One of the most startling aspects of watching Molly Dineen's brilliant Channel 4 documentary on the crisis in farming, The Lie of the Land, was the way it reminded one that there are voices in this country which are simply not heard in the various national debates. Those who live on the land, like the people with whom Dineen spent time, have generations of experience of rural life and are often intelligent, but, over the past 30 or 40 years, they have become marginalised. Portrayed in the metropolitan press in simple-minded,...

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When the Queen invited the Queen to dinner …

While it is not a constitutional crisis on the scale of, say, Prince William breaking with a girlfriend or his brother kicking a photographer outside a nightclub, the row between the Queen and "the Queen" has been causing serious problems in royal circles. At one level, it was trivial matter - the Queen invited Helen Mirren to dinner and Mirren was unable to attend - and yet this apparent rejection has taken on symbolical importance. The fake monarch has snubbed the real one. "Her Majesty is seriously annoyed," a well-placed royal insider reports. "Last week she sat up in bed in the middle of the night and shouted, 'Who does that bitch think she is?' It gave the Duke of Edinburgh quite a turn and he was unable to get back to sleep. It's the talk of the palace." Who was to blame? Fortunately, we have been able to gain...

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Madam Whiplash will never run out of punters

A successful young British actress has just experienced one of those "I want to be alone" moments. While trekking in the Himalayas, Keira Knightley had noticed that what she liked most about her holiday was the fact that no one knew who she was. She had, she told a magazine interviewer, begun to see herself as "a tiny, insignificant speck - something I really needed". Cue the usual sneers. Ever since the first camera bulb flashed, there have been complaints from the rich, beautiful and envied about the heart-breaking loneliness of fame. If a film star truly likes the idea of being a tiny, insignificant speck, it could be fairly argued that the place to find out what it is like is not in the foothills of the Himalayas but on the Northern Line, packed into an underground carriage with smelly commuters during the rush hour. Just as the public...

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Lewd but likeable: the key to Naim Attallah

A mighty slab of autobiography, self-adoring, self-promoting and self-published, has just appeared in the bookshops. It will sell few copies - nearly 800 name-dropping pages about the life of a moderately successful businessman is not an obvious bestseller - but it will receive pages of publicity in the press. The British media has a peculiarly soft spot for its author Naim Attallah, the Palestinian businessman who for a couple of decades supported small but worthwhile publishing enterprises (The Literary Review, The Oldie, Quartet Books) employed some good-looking Sloane Rangers and held good parties. The progress of Attallah through the Britain of Thatcher and Blair provides an instructive little parable of influence. Everything about his career would seem to guarantee that he would be regarded with some suspicion and yet that he has always known what the British media establishment liked, and how far he could go. Under normal circumstances, a...

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Why I’m not sold on ‘The Apprentice’

Perhaps more than its executives would care to admit, British mainstream television throbs with the thin-blooded pulse of nostalgia. Top Gear reminds viewers of a time when it was all right for minor public school types to talk about cars and make feeble jokes about women and foreigners. Once or twice a week, there will be a drama series, usually with a part for Dennis Waterman, which brings back faces from the past, only with less hair and more midriff. Occasionally a cunning format like that for the series Life on Mars provides nostalgia but renders it respectable with a veneer of contemporary irony and knowingness. But occasionally it is difficult to judge whether programme-makers are knowingly travelling back in time or are simply stuck in the past without realising it. It may well be, for example, that the team responsible for the hit show The Apprentice thought that getting...

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You’re on my roll of honour, Sheryl

It would seem a fairly obvious rule of public life that references to daily, intimate activities be kept to a minimum. If a book called Tales from the Smallest Room were published, it would do little for the reputations of those included. Evelyn Waugh died there, Joe Orton spent a lot of time there, Rula Lenska once got stuck in there and George Michael was arrested there: it is all one needs to know. When the former star Jade Goody announced to the world's press her preference for quilted toilet paper, her days as a celebrity were numbered. Yet now, astonishingly, the brilliant country music star Sheryl Crow seems in danger of making the same mistake. Following a climate change-awareness tour - songs, satire, worrying statistics, clips from Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth - the singer posted some provocative thoughts on her blog. "I propose a limitation be put on...

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What is it that makes us such bad losers?

Those who watched, with snooty incredulity, news footage of effigy-burning and riots on the Indian sub-continent during cricket's World Cup would do well to take a glance at the reaction of English sports writers and bloggers to the elimination of our national team. Almost without exception, commentators have seemed unable to contain their fury and disappointment. In that home of family values, the Daily Mail, for example, their man Jeff Powell churned out the usual terms of abuse - yellow-bellied, scarlet-faced, craven, spineless, embarrassing, shameful and so on - before reaching a rather striking conclusion about the coach and the captain. "Let us just say that hanging would be too good for Fletcher, Vaughan and most of their fellow failures to defeat a single top-flight team on this calamitous expedition." Rage has obviously done something terrible to Jeff's syntax, but we catch his drift. The punishment meted out to Bob...

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Why it always pays to play yourself

How quaint that phrase "kiss and tell" is beginning to sound. It suddenly seems to belong to a lost age of polite euphemism, like "taking a liberty" or "no better than she should be". When some knackered old court correspondent, churning out tedious speculation as part of the nationally embarrassing coverage of the latest royal story, discusses whether Kate Thingy will be tempted to kiss and tell, only the most desperate royalist will be able to read on. No one merely kisses these days, and everyone tells. Gordon Brown has recently offered the view that the pointless fascination with celebrity is fading, that "people are moving away from that to what lies behind the character and personality", but the news almost every day refutes this view. In today's great burgeoning of the blab culture, character and personality are merely products being sold in the celebrity bazaar. Politicians are in no...

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Zoos are the last place to keep wild animals

It has been a bumper month for A-list animal celebrities. Knut, Berlin Zoo's famous polar bear cub, has made the front cover of Vanity Fair, posing in a faked-up photograph with Leonardo DiCaprio. According to that great style magazine, Knut is "a powerful (if not controversial) symbol of what the planet has to lose to global warming". He is also, it turns out, an excellent symbol of wildlife marketing, causing such massive queues that shares in Berlin Zoo have more than doubled, producing an unprecedented merchandising boom (800 stuffed Knuts are sold every day) and inspiring, among other things, a blog written on his behalf in three languages. Older animals have been doing well, too. In America, a very special chimpanzee party has been taking place. A chimp called Cheeta which, amazingly, appeared in a number of films from Tarzan of the Apes (1932) to Dr Dolittle (1967) has just...

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The web holds up a mirror to our cruelty

When the shaggy libertarians of the love generation first pioneered the idea of the internet, they believed it would be an instrument for free expression, democracy and anarchy. Taking hippie values into the cybernetic age, it would bring the kind of freely shared, co-operative knowledge to be found in The Whole Earth Catalogue to anyone with a computer. The stranglehold on information and power previously held by a small élite would be broken for ever by this great new, democratising medium. How differently things have turned out. The élite may be tamed, with politicians eagerly launching their weblogs and limbering up for appearances on YouTube, but, down among the common folk, the internet has not been the joyful free-for-all of information and contact that had once been hoped. Far from being an expression of freedom, cyberspace is rapidly becoming synonymous with power and its abuse. It allows various and significant...

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