Tate Modern and Royal Opera House

Article excerpt

John Prescott was ridiculed only when tabloid editors realised he owned more homes than they did

The idea that anything "luxurious" can create "paradise" has suddenly fallen out of political favour, and only Chris Smith has yet to catch on to this new trend. There he is, touring the regions trying to convince unemployed Merseyside youths that the extravagant Tate Modern and Royal Opera House are a boon to their way of life. "You'll lose your benefit if you go and visit, but it's well worth a look," you can imagine him saying earnestly.

Meanwhile, paradise [acute{a}] la new Labour is becoming a very different cup of darjeeling. The focacciafor-all era has ended and we appear to be entering Tony Blair's more frugal, back-to-Labour-roots vision of Utopia. It seems a lifetime since the PM denied ministers their pay rises, but the instinct for self-flagellation has never really left Downing Street. Now the cult (in print and rhetoric, if not in reality) of self-denial seems to be spreading to other publicly answerable personalities.

Loyal old Greg Dyke has been first to leap on to the "lean is mean" bandwagon, and has issued a painful ban on croissants at breakfast meetings throughout the BBC. Continental bread in general really seems to annoy the new DG and, in another radical step, he has removed the "rustico bloomer" and "Italian baguettes" from the boardrooms of the big cheeses in the corporation.

These gestures are all well and good, but I have to warn Greg Dyke that sharing the same platter of sandwiches that researchers and guests are fed is only good policy if he means to keep his promise to halve the management sector at the Beeb. Two weeks ago, I went to bite a floppy sandwich with a pink filling while appearing on Radio 5 Live, only to have it snatched from my lips by a nervous producer. She warned me: "As you're pregnant, it's best just to nibble the bread and ignore the insides -- we've had sickness."

So, if press spin on recent Downing Street announcements is right, then paradise on this island would see bright-eyed Oxbridge students with regional accents discussing prudent ten-year plans to pay off loans, while BBC managers eat the same miserable, cold, poisonous snacks as their staff.

Any links with extravagance and its class connotations are to be avoided like the Militant Tendency and the WI. "Luxury" has become the sort of word that Alastair Campbell might let slip in regard to the lifestyle of a minister whose name he wants to besmirch. In speeches, it makes the user instantly sound less sincere: "Poverty is a luxury we cannot afford" has a Milburn-style buzz to it. And surely "We don't have the luxury of being in opposition that the honourable gentleman enjoys" will be hurled across the floor to Hague any day now.

Yet luxury is beloved of new-Labour movers and shakers. It's sipped thoughtfully on the Commons Terrace and (for certain underlings) snorted at Soho House, but remains hidden from the public and must never be flaunted on official day trips to one's constituency up north. …