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Gary Younge
Where were you Al?

Al Gore stood today at Hay as an indictment of American politics. In his keynote speech he was funny, passionate and engaging as he warned the packed audience of the impending "planetary emergency" prompted by global warming.

Describing himself as a "recovering politician" he wavered between preacher and stand up. "You win some you lose some," he said. "And then there's that lesser known category," referring to the election he both won and then lost in 2000.The delivery smacked of rehearsed spontaneity but the message was compelling (more so for an American audience I expect where many of these issues are still not common currency). When asked from the audience what we should do he said: "Become an activist - as a consumer, as a voter, as a citizen."

All of which begs the question where was this Al Gore six years ago when he stood for president? Indeed where was he 14 years ago when he stood for vice president? Where was he when Clinton signed Kyoto but would not honour it? Where was this Al Gore when big business was bankrolling his campaign? Being a professional politician it seems eviscerated all this energy and optimism and buried it in earth tones and bland lowest common denominator soundbites.

All too often in recent years we've seen politicians, whether its Clare Short or the late Robin Cook, who have found their voice only once they have lost their power. Gore is no exception.

But if he keeps on this way then Gore's loss may be our gain. Clearly running for president does not bring out his most progressive side. Answering a call from the audience that he should run again he said. "The role I can most usefully place is to change the minds of the American people."

Let's just hope the spin-doctors don't get hold of this "recovering politician" too soon and restore him to his previous health.

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Stranger in a Strange Land – Encounters in the Disunited States
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