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

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The Independent Online
t OUTING CANCELLED. Even the most cynical observer must take the Sun's sudden decision to stop exposing gay cabinet ministers as a sign that perhaps there aren't any more gay cabinet ministers. Meanwhile, the gay mafia over at the Sun is down one wise-guy following the sacking of columnist Matthew Parris, who made a grave error of judgement by outing Peter Mandelson on Newsnight instead of in his column. Lest readers think this policy shift might render the football hooligan's paper of record unrecognisable, an editor's statement insisted that the Sun will continue to be "brilliantly innovative". Phew!

t MILLBANK TENDENCY. The Labour Party's desire to control everything - from the NEC to the Liberal Democrats - gained scope this week as Tony Blair pointed out that a Scottish Assembly under the influence of the SNP might put Scottish people in a position to do each other favours, and Labour unveiled new selection procedures designed to prevent London mayoral candidates from being Ken Livingstone. The real danger with Labour's control-freak ways is that they are becoming entertaining, and people who would never dream of voting for Ken Livingstone or the SNP will now do so just to see what happens next.

t PING PONG. The House of Lords and the Labour Party are locked in a bitter legislative battle, after the Lords defeated the Government's European voting bill for the third time, and the Government resolved to send it back for a fourth. The fight - over whether Euro MPs should be elected in a first-past-the-post system or by PR - has little to do with public interest, since the public aren't interested in voting for Euro MPs by any method. But it shows that the Lords can still be counted on to display a refreshing independence over issues which don't really matter.

t MINE'S A WINE. The news that 40 per cent of Britons buy more than two bottles of wine a month - shunning liebfraumilch in favour of extra- classy chardonnay - only damns us with our faint progress, making us all sound like characters from Abigail's Party. Factor out those of us who buy more than two bottles of wine a day and statistics prove that Britain is still a nation of flat-capped pigeon-fanciers who drink brown ale and buy cigarettes one at a time. It makes you wonder if New Labour really won fair and square.

t YOUNG WOMAN. Once upon a time, "unit trust scandal" would have been regarded as an oxymoron. All this changed when the defendant in the Morgan Grenfell unit trust fraud trial, Peter Young, showed up in court dressed as a woman. Now the trial - or at least the picture - is front-page news, and financial journalists are left to decide whether a coral-pink raffia- weave handbag goes with a white floral-print dress and a light-brown jumper. The scandal also has a feminist angle, since Young's claim that he is mentally incompetent to face fraud-related charges seems to be based on the fact that he is a girl.

t NEW-LOOK ROYALS. Reaching 50 must be a bit of a relief for Prince Charles, who always looked uncomfortable being any younger. At last, he can bring a more adult perspective to tasks like getting his mother to like his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Prince Philip went on a diplomatic mission to Ireland in preparation for a possible visit from the Queen - presumably on the basis that if the Irish are ready for Prince Philip, they are ready for anything. Sadly, for a Royal Family that is trying to stay in step with the times, the trip only highlights the fact that the Queen has not visited Ireland since ... ever.

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