It was a storm in a politically-correct teacup, soon superseded by the week's biggest story, the controversial Japanese royal visit. Tony Blair tried to pre-empt anticipated protests by demanding a warm welcome for Emperor Akihito and his Empress, but was reduced to a whimpering supplicant by the Telegraph's Tuesday headline: "Don't snub Emperor, pleads Blair". As the royal party rode up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, dozens of former prisoners of war ignored their premier's instruction, turned their backs in disgust, burnt the Japanese flag, and whistled the wartime anthem, Colonel Bogey. (One, ex-corporal Sidney Vinall, 76, told the Star he had even put his dentures in especially for the effort). The papers came down decisively on the side of the veterans, with the tabloids making the most of the opportunity to splash pictures and accounts of Japanese wartime atrocities across their pages. "That's torture a lesson" crowed the Star in appallingly bad taste, but the Sun was even blunter: "Japanese beheaded my mates, that's why I'm burning their flag". So there, chaps.
Arthur Titherington, chairman of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors' Association, had no competition for the title Most Quoted Person of the Week. He insisted in the Telegraph on Monday: "Whatever [the Emperor] says isn't going to make one jot of difference". On Wednesday, he was musing in the Star: "I wonder if [the Emperor] really knows what actually happened". And, after a rumpus raised by the Times on Thursday over an ambiguous translation of the royal one's speech regarding past events - to which the apologetic word "sorrow" was added at the last minute - Titherington was back. "This is outrageous trickery," he rapped. "It really does show that the Japanese are telling us fairy stories."
Sounds more like an exploited mishap over language, as illustrated by a similarly blundering remark about the demonstration made by Akihito's spokesman, Kazuo Chiba, gleefully quoted by the Mirror on Wednesday. "My impression was that [the Emperor] took it in his stride. If I may invite another phrase, it doesn't get under our skin," said the man, inadvertently conjuring up images of the skeletal victims on whose behalf these veterans were already frothing at the mouth. He should have shut his own after admitting: "It was beastly".
At least the Empress made some attempt at recompense. Preparing for a visit to Wales, home of several Japanese factories, she was reported by the Times to be learning both the language and, improbably, the harp, but even this didn't help. Around 40 veterans booed and jeered the Emperor as he arrived at Cardiff Castle, although Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, miles away from all the fuss, played it down. The Mail quoted him on Thursday as being "relieved to read that the imperial couple had been well received in Britain". Not exactly, but they certainly couldn't complain they were ignored. The British public in general appeared to be more kindly disposed towards the visitors. The Guardian reported that an NOP poll - issued in an eleventh-hour damage-limitation exercise by the Japanese embassy - had found that 86 per cent of Britons felt it "important to forgive, promote reconciliation and look to the future".
They weren't the only ones planning ahead. Labour continued to build up its image as the party of the people with the first of a series of "women's juries", costing pounds 42,000 for a three-day policy session involving 15 members of the public. The Telegraph approved, and on Tuesday printed the verdict of 19-year- old single mother and jury member Corinne: "One of the best things a government can do is to listen to the people... I have always had so many questions and never had anyone to give me the answers," said the new lay expert. Meanwhile, two higher-profile women, Conservative front-bencher Angela Browning and Frank magazine's launch editor Tina Gaudoin, decided it was time to downshift and join the women-who-finally- admit-they-can't-have-it-all camp.
Ms Browning, commendably, was stalling her blooming career for the sake of her 26-year-old son Robin, who suffers from the autistic condition Asperger's syndrome. She told the Express: "The decision made itself - I knew what my priority was and I could not guarantee William Hague 100 per cent effort on the front-bench". And goodness knows, he needs it. Tina Gaudoin was not so widely applauded. After admitting in a Mirror piece ("Forget Superwoman... I just want to be a mum") that "I spent hours torturing myself with the thought that I was letting the 'sisterhood' down by copping out of a working situation that so many women strive to achieve", she was taken apart by a smug Alexandra Shulman in the Telegraph. "Monthly magazines are hardly slave-labour," she sniffed. "By any standards, a glossy magazine editor's life is more enjoyable than 90 per cent of other working women's, and we're paid better than most."
Those with a more valid reason to protest were cyclists competing in the prestigious PruTour race in Lancashire on Tuesday, many of whom became hopelessly lost in the small town of Brierfield after missing a crucial road sign. The Guardian reported the dismay of Australia's team manager Brian Stephens: "I saw a motorbike marshal coming towards me and thought 'Beauty, he'll tell me where to go'. His first words were 'Where am I?'" It also revealed how top British cyclist, Matt Stephens ended up, with several others, in a carpark. Which goes to show that it's never a bad idea to keep a quizzical eye on those who purport to lead the way.Reuse content