The times are really a-changin' - at last

CHANGE is the watchword, and boy have we got a change coming on.

Aidan Semmens

CHANGE is the watchword, and boy have we got a change coming on.

Not just because we're about to have the first black US president. Barack Obama may be in one sense the first “person of colour” to hold the office, but he is also a person of all colours and of none.

Not just because his victory was so sweeping it sweeps away the sense of dirt and corruption that until this week still hung over from the “lost chads” election of 2000.

Not just because the worst president in over a century is about to be replaced by a man who shows every sign of being the best in at least that long.

And not just because the Democrats may just have struck a life-preserving blow on behalf of democracy itself. Which may or may not be a very good thing.

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We have become used over many years to American being not just the world's policeman, the world's bully, but also the big brake on world progress. And that, if Obama fulfils his huge promise, could be about to change. Big time.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is centre-right, with the emphasis on the right. Ditto Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats are the Tories of Germany. The Conservatives are in power in Canada.

Overall, Obama will be the furthest left-leaning leader of any country in the so-called G8 group of the world's major industrialised democracies. And that's before the Tories win the next UK election.

While much of the world is moving worryingly to the right, we might have to start looking to the USA as a beacon of reason and decency. How weird is that?

Before we get too carried away on the glorious wave of Obamamania, though, a couple of warnings.

One is to recall the national and international euphoria that greeted John F Kennedy's election in 1960.

In the words of one dissenter: “Kennedy was too good-looking, too glamorous. A man who looked like that could get away with anything. That's why I wanted ugly Dick Nixon to win.”

Then there's the view expressed, perversely on the face of it, by my friend Simon. He's the only person I know who wanted McCain to win - and it wasn't because he doesn't like Obama.

In his view, Bush is leaving the US economy in such a calamitous state that it's bound to crash and burn whoever is in charge. And he reckons whichever party was in charge for the next four years would be finished for a generation by the inevitable disaster to come.

I do hope you're wrong, Simon - though I can see the sense in that view.

The more optimistic one is that the shrinking of US waistlines, gas-tanks and military operations will make the world a safer and better place. And that it can be accomplished by charismatic leadership good enough and strong enough to maintain popular support.

ON this glad day, I'd just like to say a word for the gallant losers. John McCain, who is nothing if not gallant. And Sarah Palin, who's a loser.

She is also, let's admit it, very very funny. All the more so because she doesn't mean to be.

Now we can really enjoy those rib-tickling gaffes, that down-home-mum mangling of the language, the hilarious stagey winks and goofy grins.

We can enjoy it all in safety, knowing that a woman who makes Maggie Thatcher look like a pinko and George W Bush an intellectual is not going to be one heartbeat away from ruling the world. Phew.

I MUST say I was surprised by the outraged reaction to Jeremy Clarkson's “joke” about lorry-drivers and prostitutes.

Yes it was offensive, uncalled-for and gratuitously vicious. No it doesn't bear repeating here, of all places. But what's unusual about Clarkson being insulting and unpleasant? It's what he does.

It's why he's paid eye-watering amounts of money to appear on TV and write columns for papers both low-brow and posh. Why his collected witterings are never out of the bestseller lists. Because people find offensiveness amusing.

The BBC say he has a “long-established and frequently provocative on-screen persona”. Which is true, but could be used as a justification for almost anything.

The Taleban have a long-established and provocative attitude to women too, but I wouldn't stick up for them on that basis.

The statement goes on to claim the prostitutes remark “was not intended to cause offence”. Which is like saying Top Gear is not intended to be a television programme.

Because it was obviously scripted, Clarkson's cheap nasty laugh was worse than the bad-taste banter that got Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross in such trouble. But something worthwhile could come of all this unpleasantness.

If the Beeb had the bottle they could take this chance to get rid of Brand, Ross and Clarkson for good. Three of the most irritating and over-paid people in the business off the airwaves and the wage bill at once.