Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Las Vegas

Whatever else we import from American politics, please let us avoid the appalling new practice of requiring children to give testimonials on behalf of their parents. I was sitting with my 11-year-old daughter in our VIP suite in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, waiting for John Kerry to come on CNN, when my blood ran cold. Not one but two Kerry daughters were produced to give speeches in praise of Kerry the loving Pop. This is America, of course, where top politics has Hollywood production values, and both speeches were impeccably charming. One of the girls, Alexandra, told of the time when the Kerry hamster fell, in its cage, off a New England dock, and the weeping Kerry children watched it bubble to the depths. It was a reverse Chappaquidick, with the hamster as Mary Jo Kopechne, and Kerry an anti-Teddy Kennedy, hurling himself after the trapped critter. The tale will have done him no end of good. But is it really right to ask children to give these crucial reviews of our political suitability, like the teenage delators of Ceausescu's Romania? I stole a glance at my daughter. She was watching beadily.

We startled room service at 4 a.m. by having smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, waffles, strawberries, syrup, bacon, pints of cawfee and OJ. Outside Vegas winked and strobed with colossal neon representations of rhinestone-covered buttocks, and I felt Mark Steyn-style surges of enthusiasm for America and her energy. This town is expanding by 7,000 per month, and all night long - we watched - the hard-hatted ants crawl over the west wing of Caesars Palace. In Britain we are so nocturnally idle that we are punching out barely 1.7 kids per mum, and if we were inclined to build a hotel in the middle of the night, we'd be forbidden by the EU Working Time Directive.

One of the points of being in Vegas is to study the impact of gambling on the soul. The place is full of Brits - 325,000 UK visitors last year, up 25 per cent on the year before - and this autumn a controversial casino Bill comes before the Commons. Everywhere from Bognor to Blackpool to the Dome could be turned into a kind of Vegas, complete with pole dancers and 'ultralounges'; and the Vegas mob look at us and lick their lips. When the draft Bill was presented to the Commons last year, I gave a speech of simple libertarianism. Having watched the punters here, the lizard concentration, the smoking, the tinsel self-delusion, the robotic lever-pulling, I have started to have my doubts.

Mind you, most of the money in Vegas is now made in the ancillary trades. The city fathers have decided that their slogan is 'sin city', and everywhere are hoardings saying things like '0800 1234 GIRLS', while Peruvian comunali hand out the lavishly illustrated manifestos of Mandi or Consuela, who volunteer to be in your room 'within 20 minutes'. In fact, the general sinfulness is so exuberant that it fails to be decently sinful.

Kerry's speech is thought to have been well judged, especially his attack on the Iraq war. 'When I am Commander-in-Chief, America will go to war because we have to, not because we want to' (ovation). But hang on a mo. This guy voted for the war. Surely there is something unseemly in first supporting a deeply divisive military operation and then - when it seems to go wrong - in standing up to tell the troops they have been dying in vain. …

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