News Monkey: A simian slant on last week's news ...

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The Independent Online
t ASHDOWN STEPS down. Yet another member of Tony Blair's government has been forced to resign, this time Paddy Ashdown. Although he doesn't officially step down until June, the fight to replace him as leader of the Liberal Democrats has already begun, prompting an important question: why? The field is wide open, but the smart money is on someone you've never heard of.

t LORDS REFORM. Here it is, 1999, and more than 700 undeserving hereditary peers are still arsing about in the Lords like it's going out of style, which it is. So far this year their ruthless oppression has been bearable, but every day they stick around is one less day that Britain could be ruled by a Senatesque democratoid chamber staffed by semi-elected People's Peers including Carol Smillie, Stephen Fry, Dickie Bird, Britain's Most Argumentative Bus Conductor and the winner of the annual Greater London Burger King Employee of the Month Napkin Dispenser Loading Race. Only then will we be truly free.

t HOORAY FOR Pinochet. The embarrassment surrounding the case of the Wentworth One deepens with each passing week, especially now that Britain's Rabid Right has begun to suck up to the genocidal supply-sider in earnest. Last week Senator-for-Life Norman Lamont paid a personal visit to Pinochet, just to say chin up, there's a brave lad. It's difficult to see who benefits from this particular PR exercise. Certainly as someone whose most famous good point is his way with monetarism, General Pinochet would be wise to take more care about the sort of company he keeps.

t HAMZA SPEAKS out. With a glass eye, a hook for a hand, terrorist links and a British passport, Islamic fundamentalist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri seems to have sprung fully formed from the nightmares of Daily Mail readers. While he may be something of a cliche, falling somewhere between a Dickens character and a James Bond bad guy, Hamza certainly embodies William Hague's new bold and brassy "British Way", knocking your old maid on a bicycle into a cocked hat. News Monkey would like to nominate him to take over Danny Baker's old Talk Radio slot.

t BAD CHRISTMAS. The message is clear: if the economy implodes later this year, it will be because we the consumers failed in our solemn duty to buy a load of rubbish we could ill-afford in a frenzied panic during the weeks preceding Christmas. In simpler times our collective decision to forego this materialist ritual might be seen as a positive step more in keeping with the true spirit of Christmas, but here in New Britain we know that peace on Earth and good will toward men are as nothing without a healthy retail sector.

t VIAGRA RATIONING. Earlier in the year Viagra was hailed as the wonder- drug of the century. Now it looks to go down in history as the boner pill that killed the NHS. The real issue is not whether rationing is necessary or ethical, but the fact that Viagra costs as much as five quid a go, about the same as a lap dancer. Impotence or no, we'd all need to adopt a rationing programme at those prices. Let's just wait for the sales.