A tabloid tongue-lashing
May 24, 2003
It was bound to happen. But maybe few expected that it would happen so quickly. Days after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Baroness Valerie Amos's appointment to the British Cabinet as International Development Secretary, the Daily Mail, a popular national tabloid, sent a team to Wakenaam. The story that emerged last Sunday was not unexpected, but could be termed ludicrous, if it were not so pathetic.
The Mail has been a thorn in the side of the Labour government for a while now. It is anti-war and anti-Euro and has not been shy with its opinions on either subject. It is also blatantly anti-Blair. It was the Mail that broke the story on Cherie Blair - the Prime Minister's wife - and her dealings with conman Peter Foster, who helped her to purchase a couple of flats at a discounted price. It also inferred that she had helped him with his deportation case. (Foster has since been deported to Australia.) So clearly nothing complimentary could be forthcoming from the visit to Wakenaam. Apparently, Baroness Amos, who had left Guyana when she was just nine years old, had said at some point in the past that she had been born in a paradise. Not so! proclaimed the Mail. In fact, the newspaper said, the Baroness's paradise island sits in a crocodile-infested river and is inhabited by some of the poorest people in the world. It carried photographs as proof, including one of the "hut on stilts" where she spent the first nine years of her life.
The Mail also claimed that relatives said the Baroness never helped them financially. The reporter spoke to a community leader who said she was perhaps the only overseas-based former resident of the island who had not contributed to current efforts to build a playground. It was also claimed that these relatives made efforts to visit with her when she accompanied Prince Charles to Guyana, but were told her schedule was too tight.
However, the story did manage to include quotes from an uncle who was clearly proud. And the paper carried a John Mair piece below, which placed the Baroness among the Prince Charles's coined 'Guyanese mafia' group, who were making great strides in Britain politically and economically. But one could sense the disappointment that there were no juicy tales to tell about Baroness Amos, who is unmarried, childless and seems to have a life that is truly an open book.
Other newspapers have dubbed her a Blairite loyalist, who is virtually unknown outside Westminster and has little taste for personal publicity; and have referred to her "politically correct rise." According to the Guardian, some of the coverage following her appointment could best be described as patronising.
Baroness Valerie Amos, of Brondesbury in the London Borough of Brent is a minority not only as one of only 113 women in the 689-member House of Lords, but one of only 40 female peers among the 186 Labour members, according to an analysis published on May 1, 2003. She also has to overcome the stigma of having being appointed rather than elected. But few doubt her ability to perform in her new role, though it will be a real test of her diplomatic skills. Baroness Amos co-founded the firm Amos Fraser Bernard, a change consultancy, and was a public services adviser to South Africa's President Nelson Mandela's administration when Tony Blair hired her.
And despite her distaste for publicity, Amos could eventually become a role model for black women. She has been outspoken on ethnic-minority and other issues such as forced marriages and reproductive health. Now that the tabloid terrors have shown their hand, she would do well to protect her jugular at all times.