FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Turn left at Paris

President Cheddi Jagan of Guyana, who died last week, embodied the maxim that you should never give up. He led the opposition in South America's only English-speaking country from 1964, two years before independence, until 1992, when he finally got to run the country.

I must admit to considering him a bit of a loser when I interviewed him in Georgetown in 1980. Even then having portraits on your office wall of Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Salvador Allende marked you out as being rather behind the times. But Jagan finally got his reward, and, unlike Nelson Mandela, he did not have to spend the intervening years in prison.

What strikes me about his generation of Commonwealth politicians is that the form of leftism they imbibed during their studies in Britain or the US - Jagan somehow picked up Moscow-line Communism in Chicago while qualifying as a dentist - was never quite as virulent as the kind they taught in Paris. Deng Xiaoping took his first Marxist steps on the Left Bank. So did Uncle Ho and most of the leadership of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I don't know how many mass murderers have studied at the LSE, but I'll bet the Sorbonne is way ahead.

Sunset cruise

AND while we're on the subject of the colonies, wasn't it fine to see the Oriana and the QE2 steam into Hong Kong harbour last week to carry our retiring administrators on a well-deserved cruise back to Blighty? Must have impressed the natives, don't you think?.

Since 1972, colonial servants have been entitled to sail home with their families at the Hong Kong taxpayers' expense on retirement, a perk costing about HK$63,000 (pounds 5,200) a head or HK$10m a year. Anyone recruited after 1984 no longer had this in their contract, such was the public opprobium it caused, but there are still plenty of old-timers blithely exercising their rights.

If anything is better calculated to make the six million Hong Kongers they are leaving behind think "good riddance", it is hard to imagine. As the territory prepares for Chinese rule and the 21st century, it smacks of attitudes unchanged since the 19th century.

It's the pits

I'M amazed Michael Howard didn't think of this first: in South Africa they are considering incarcerating the hardest nuts in the prison system in disused mine shafts. The prisons commissioner, Khulekani Sithole, described the type of convict who would qualify for an underground jail as "animals that must never see sunlight again".

South Africa, of course, has the deepest mine shafts in the world, so it must be tempting to shove the worst riff-raff a mile down and invite them to dig their way out if they want to. The idea has been greeted with some scorn, not to say indignation; a spokesman for the prisons service conceded that apart from the practical difficulties, "you also have to look at your constitution and bill of rights".

That never seems to be a problem for our Home Secretary, as the European Court of Human Rights will testify. And while they might not be as deep as Klipfontein or Vaal Reefs, there are plenty of disused collieries around which could be used for anyone Parkhurst or Broadmoor doesn't want. How about it, Mr Howard? You don't want Jack Straw to get there first!

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