I hope you'll forgive the scarcity of party gossip this month, but it is officially Silly Season - or rather, Mili season - and everyone seems to have disappeared off to Southwold or Padstow, noble eco-warriors that they are. (I did have a nice chat with a preternaturally relaxed-looking Gordon Brown at the Downing Street summer bash, but that was before the latest cow pat hit the proverbial fan...) So, with recess in full swing - even if the bloggers are giddy with speculation about conference season - and me spending whole weeks nowhere near SW1, I suddenly find myself mixing with people who couldn't give a monkeys about the No 10 key-jangling and are simply desperate for someone to get on with the job of governing the country.
One brave band of politicians did dare to board an aeroplane and emit carbon this summer. Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell has been building on his efforts in Rwanda last summer - remember, when the media were cheering on Brown's every step, while David Cameron was fighting for his political life after departing flood-wet Whitney for poverty-stricken Kigali - by accompanying over a hundred Tories back to the country for Project Umubano II. Volunteers have been working in education, health, law and private sector development, and I'm told the aim is to learn as much as to impart.
Gainsayers will no doubt be as sceptical about Mitchell's mission this year as they were last. (I myself got lambasted in some sections of the blogosphere for reporting that I thought it was a good sign that the Tories might, under Cameron, care about Africa.) But Mitchell has never claimed that his volunteers are ‘doing' international development, rather he is encouraging as many of his party as possible to witness global poverty at first hand, and to think seriously about how a Conservative government might approach this scar on our conscience. For although Labour has always been the natural home of those wanting, for ease of reference, to make poverty history, one decade since DfID was born, it seems more than ever is being spent on overseas aid - to not enough effect. While targets such as the Millennium Development Goals still fall grievously short of being reached, complacency seems to have infected the DfID machine. The Tories, thankfully, are now in agreement with Labour on spending targets (including overseas aid accounting for 0.7% of GDP by 2013), but they differ in ideology and methodology; pledging, for example, to spend more on conflict prevention, and to review meticulously the Direct Budgetary Support so beloved of DfID project managers that has been so ineffective in countries like Sierra Leone. International development is not a party political issue, it's a human issue, so perhaps rather than being scathing about a Development Shadow Secretary who commits to spending as much time in the countries which pertain to his brief (where is Douglas Alexander holidaying, I wonder, Scotland?) we should be appreciative.
Now, a question. What can the European film industry teach us about the World Trade Organisation? I've just been in Rome, prepping for an Italian movie that shoots later in the summer. The production team are delightful, but it was suggested to me the other night that I should be thanking my lucky stars for this job. Well, naturally, I thought. I'm an actress: I thank my lucky stars for every job. And so, ‘certo', I smiled. "I am very grateful to be here." The Italian glared. "I don't think you understand," she said. "You're an English girl, playing an Italian. Don't you realise how outrageous that is?" Spluttering on my bocconcini, I wanted to protest: think of all those American actors who land our juiciest historical roles! Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, or Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn! Or the Australians, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, who blithely assumed our most famous monarchs, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I! Surely, in this globalised age, nationality doesn't mean anything when it comes to making movies? But my Italian counterpart was smirking ominously. "Anyway", she continued. "Our Prime Minister is seeing to the end of that." Yes, apparently that notorious defender of minority rights, Silvio Berlusconi, has passed a law intended to protect the privileges of Italian artists, ensuring their preferential treatment over foreigners in Italian films. As in, we're taking their jobs
! In another sector, this would be called hysterical protectionism, and I feel we should be at pains to fight it as a matter of principle. That way madness lies. And not just because I want to keep my job...
Clemency Burton-Hill is a writer, actress and broadcaster, and a contributing editor to The Spectator.