Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
Dependent, it isn't

IT'S GOOD to see that the spin doctors do not rule everywhere, and that not everyone can be kept "on message", let alone politically correct.

Take Thomas Russell, chairman of the Dependent Territories Association, the name of which now seems a bit un-PC, according to a Government review which proposes rechristening our remaining colonial bits and pieces "overseas territories" and giving their 160,000 inhabitants full British passports. You remember the problem with doing this used to be the danger that our poor little island would be "swamped", as Baroness Thatcher put it, by 3 million Chinese Hong Kongers.

All that's OK now, of course. Our remaining colonial subjects are reasonably white in hue - most of them, at any rate - and not too numerous, whatever their colour. Far from showing suitable gratitude, though, Mr Russell insisted that his members would not be interested if it meant everyone from here would be entitled to settle in congenial Caribbean territories such as Anguilla or the Caymans. "We could not be flooded out with people from this country coming to our small islands," he said on the Today programme.

Not very PC, but then I saw last week that the Caymans had banned a shipload of gay cruise passengers from docking there. The Bahamas invited them to sail their way instead, but bad weather prevented it, much to the glee of local churchmen, who said their prayers had been answered.

Pooh and Pollocks

ANOTHER person who seems immune to spin-doctoring is Gwyneth Dunwoody MP, whose noisy campaign to get Winnie the Pooh and his chums back from the New York Public Library complicated Tony Blair's trip to the US.

Those of us who knew what this might mean for treasures in our museums cringed, but Mrs Dunwoody cheerily blundered on. "Just like the Greeks want their Elgin Marbles back," she said, "so we want our Winnie the Pooh back, along with all his splendid friends." Perhaps we could swap them for some Jackson Pollocks, she added.

Think of the precedent this sets: next thing Athens will be offering us a Sooty glove-puppet to get the Parthenon marbles back. And if they have any Paddington Bears in Benin, they could exchange them for their bronzes in the British Museum.

If Peter Mandelson wants to do something useful, will he please get on Mrs Dunwoody's case - quick?

Read what you like

REACTIONS to my colleague Robert Fisk's article on Israel's 50th anniversary proved both sides in the Middle East conflict share one characteristic: the ability to avoid reading anything that doesn't fit their point of view.

Fisk said most Palestinians had little cause to celebrate the anniversary, but he contrasted Israel's functioning democracy with the corruption, dictatorship and secret policemen of Arab regimes. This was ignored by readers such as the one who accused him of denigrating Israel for its choice of government.

The same readers might have felt Fisk's anti-Israel bias was proved when his article was reprinted in translation by a Palestinian newspaper in Jerusalem, Al Quds - except that it censored every reference to Arab corruption and secret policemen.

It's funny how both sides can distort the same story to their own advantage. If they can unite on that, maybe the Middle East "peace process" can be revived after all.