Tony Blair yesterday unveiled figures showing a 25% decrease in unfairness since 1997, the year that he came to power. He cited a 33% increase in the number of celebrities marrying ordinary members of the public, saying that this was 'a right step in the direction of opportunities for the many, not just the few.'
Michael Ancram of The Conservative Party hit back, however: "Whilst it may be true that Renee Zelwegger married Kenny Chesney, Liza Minelli married David Gest and Britney Spears married Kevin Federline, it should also be noted that, not only are these couples all Americans but they also resulted in 2 divorces and an annullment. Meanwhile, the UK has seen more celebrities marrying each other than ever before with Jordan and Peter Andre and David Beckham and 'Posh Spice''. Mr Ancram did concede that Michael Winner has been seen with 48% less beautiful young actresses in recent years but he added 'The groundwork was started by the Thatcher and Major administrations. Tony Blair has been fortunate to reap the fruits of their labour.'
Ann Widdecombe for the Conservatives was more forthright: 'I remember the Labour education minister vowing in the ‘60s that he would get rid of 'every last ******* celebrity'- it's a bit rich for Tony Blair to try to get us all to marry one now.'
It was the former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister Tony Benn, however, who perhaps made the most damning attack: ‘What the devil has the number of people marrying celebrities got to do with true social fairness?' he said in a blaze of pipe smoke.
Various methods were used by The Labour Party in the 1960s to reduce the number of celebrities in the country, including a 98% top tax. Paul Jones of Manfred Mann fame was bought by one American businessman for £1 million, dismantled and reassembled in the Arizona desert, in the mistaken belief that he was the Welsh rock and roll singer Tom Jones.
Alistair Campbell was in optimistic mood: ‘The era of the bog-standard marriage is over. By 2010, we will have tripled the numbers of celebrities in this country. We are working very closely in association with BBC1's Fame Academy and ITV's X Factor. In my youth, every girl wanted to marry Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney. I can see no reason why every woman in the land shouldn't marry her own watered down version.'
Jeremy Paxman queried the move in an exchange with Tony Blair on yesterday's Newsnight. A brief transcript of the conversation follows:
‘Prime minister, what would say to people whose response might be that, now you've cosied back up to celebrities, you're aiming to take away ‘wealth by stealth'?'
‘Well I think that would be nonsense, Jeremy and I don't think that the BBC is being helpful in its own criticisms about wealth by stealth.'
‘Prime minister, nobody at the BBC has criticised your plans.'
‘Yes, but you did just there'.
‘No, what I asked, with respect, Prime Minister is, what would your response be in the hypothetical situation that somebody asked you if you were taking away ‘wealth by stealth.'
‘Look, Jeremy, I'm not in the business of making hypothetical cases about something that may or may not happen.'
‘The taking away of wealth by stealth?'
‘No, somebody asking me if I was taking away wealth by stealth.'
‘Well, are you taking away wealth by stealth?'
‘Well you just said that you wouldn't ask me that.'
‘No, I think you'll find, with respect, Prime Minister, that I said that nobody at the BBC had yet asked you that. I am now asking you that.'
‘Well I think that what we are trying to achieve is a fairer society for all.'
‘By the redistribution of wealth?'
‘By these partnerships that Gordon Brown and I have been working on to bring the United Kingdom into the twenty-first century.'
‘Isn't it all just a bit tacky, though?'
‘I think that we have to get the balance right between what is right for the members of our society.'
‘That's just meaningless, isn't it?'
‘Well no, I frankly don't think it is and if you ask the pensioner on the street what she thinks about the proposal, I think you'll find that she's in favour.'
‘How it's going to affect the pensioner on the street?'
‘Well Jeremy, if you read the document, I think you'll find that we have wide-spread support for this proposal.'
‘Why's she on the street? Is she waiting for George Clooney to sweep her off her feet?'
‘I'm not here to make jokes, Jeremy.'
‘But you are in favour of redistribution of wealth?'
‘What I'm in favour of is a more just world for all, no matter what their background is.'
‘At the expense of the privileged?'
‘Look Jeremy, I'm not going to repeat myself.'
‘So, for instance, Sting might end up with a catering assistant from Cleethorpes.'
‘Look, we're not on about taking people and putting them in a situation that they're not comfortable with.'
‘So you're in favour of streaming?'
‘I'm in favour of encouraging everybody, no matter what their background, to meet their potential.'
‘By wealth by stealth I take it. Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister but I'm afraid that all we have time for. Just time to look at tomorrow's headlines- The Sun lead with ‘Torville and Dean ham sandwich in cancer scare', The Express has ‘Rick Waller balloon hut plan scuppered by protestors'. The Independent offer ‘Billy Crystal chess set lethal says boffin' and the Mail have ‘Right Said Fred win right to fold bishop', apparently.'