Magazine article The Spectator

The Doctor's Fault

Magazine article The Spectator

The Doctor's Fault

Article excerpt

I have been brooding on the Paymaster General's shoes. Geoffrey Robinson is, I know, a figure of fun, a politician who cannot open his mouth without inviting ridicule, and with a Middle East crisis in the air his footwear should be of little interest; besides, the Lord Chancellor might think it appropriate to ban comment on the subject.

I blame the historian Dr David Starkey for this. Driving to an appointment on Sunday morning a fortnight ago, I tuned into Starkey on Sunday on Talk Radio, a threehour current affairs phone-in which I've mentioned before. Starkey devoted the first segment of the programme to trivia, informing us that he'd seen Robinson at a champagne party in London and he'd been impressed by the shoes he was wearing. He then suggested we call him and speculate on what they might have been. Listeners could also draw their ideas and fax them.

Starkey said he would disclose all shortly, but he became so excited at some of the faxes he was receiving that he decided to keep the mystery going. The suspense was dreadful. I slowed the car, chose a longer route to my destination, stopped at every amber traffic light as Starkey reached new heights of surrealism. One caller phoned to tell him that Robinson must have been wearing flippers so he could swim out to his offshore trust. Another suggested sandals.

Maddeningly, I had to abandon the radio before finding out. As I hurried into the building enough footwear to captivate a shoe fetishist clip-clopped through my mind's eye. Could it have been a sabot, a shoe hollowed out from wood? A chappal, an Indian leather sandal? A Cuban-heeled, square-toed slingback? A velvet winklepicker? As the days went by it became too much and I telephoned Talk Radio to put me out of my misery. Their answer, when they phoned back, was not as exotic as I had imagined. They were thin leather woven sandals with buckles which Starkey had apparently described as 'spiv's shoes'. Anyway, I'm glad I know.

I listened again last Sunday, this time at my desk. There is something absolutely compelling about Starkey, whom I have never met. He is no more politically correct than Lord Irvine's wallpaper is cheap. His voice can reach an outraged falsetto when he meets a view that is so obviously incomprehensible to him. His guest Nigel Nelson, the political editor of the Sunday People, told him Tony Blair and President Clinton were right to attack Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons. Starkey, no pacifist, was against because there seemed to be no clearly defined objective.

Nelson said Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were a direct threat to world peace but Starkey became impatient. …

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