Call in Jimmy Carter and get politics off the front page

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A big welcome back today to Sir John Potter, who is here to answer your questions on the current political scene. John Potter, of course, was private secretary to Bernard Ingham and was knighted for his services to Bernard Ingham, who was knighted for his services to Margaret Thatcher, who received a baronetcy for her services to Mark Thatcher. All yours, Sir John! Why didn't Mark Thatcher get a knighthood?

Sir John Potter writes: I think money is more his sort of thing.

Talking of arms deals, do you think it is unfair for John Major to expect the IRA to hand in all its weapons before real talking starts?

Sir John Potter writes: Not if the British Army in Northern Ireland also hands in all its weapons.

What effect will Jimmy Carter's trip to Bosnia have? Do you really think he will clear up the situation there?

Sir John Potter writes: I do not think Jimmy Carter will clear up the situation nor do I think that is his intention, nor that of the people who sent him. The Jimmy Carter effect, if I can call it that, is to remove a situation from the front page. Sincehe went to North Korea, no one has been interested in North Korea nor seen it as a trouble spot. Ever since he went to Haiti, there have been no reports of the Haiti situation in any newspaper. Jimmy Carter confers the gift of instant boredom, almost ofinvisibility. When he has been to a place, that place becomes unreportable. So his visit to Bosnia will not stop the fighting but the fighting will cease to have any interest for anyone, and it will go unreported. Then maybe it will just stop.

I haven't heard anything recently about the O J Simpson trial. Does that mean Jimmy Carter has paid the trial room a visit?

Sir John Potter writes: Not yet. The jury was chosen last week, eight blacks and four whites. During the jury's second session, a small race riot broke out in the jury room with fierce hand-to-hand fighting among the jury members and by the time the police had arrived, three members of the jury were dead. In addition, there were claims that the police had beaten up two of the jury members they arrested, and one other member, a black female, claims sexual harassment.

Is this true?

Sir John Potter writes: No, but it will take something like this to get interest in the case going again.

Don't you think it is absolutely disgraceful that Cunard should have had the QE2 refitted in Germany when the work could have been done in Britain?

Sir John Potter writes: That is not the real question. That is the sort of question which people ask on Any Questions? or Question Time, the sort of questions they feel they ought to be asking, a sort of knee- jerk patriotic question.

Never mind about that. What's the answer?

Sir John Potter writes: The answer is that the ship refitting should have been done in Britain and the replumbing should have been done in Germany.

I feel a bit sorry for Stephen Dorrell having to go on a by-election special on television and defend the Government's performance in the Dudley West by-election. How does the hapless cabinet minister get chosen for this hopeless task?

In my day, it was always the cabinet minister who had most recently disagreed with Margaret Thatcher. It was a kind of expiation, or penance, a reprimand or rap over the knuckles - rather like the way the BBC tells its more dissatisfied employees to go and direct shows for the Children In Need telethon.

I don't understand why Albert Reynolds's most recent remarks should have caused such a furore among Ulster Unionist MPs.

Sir John Potter writes: Nor does anyone else. For heaven's sake, you are not even meant to understand the way an Ulster Unionist's mind works. It's a private game, like backgammon or curling. Politics in Northern Ireland bears the same relation to real politics as fantasy football does to real football.

This Diane Modahl drugs inquiry: do you think she was guilty?

Sir John Potter writes: Well, the point is not whether she was guilty or not; the point is how you define guilty. Remember that until 10 years or so ago the most feared additive in athletics was not drugs at all, it was money. Athletes were banned or shunned for taking money the way they are banned or shunned now for taking drugs. Yet suddenly money has become pure and holy and we are living in "the real world" and athletes are getting very rich on what used to be a forbidden substance.

Are you saying that one day we will start living in the "real world" and permit the use of drugs and steroids in athletics?

Sir John Potter writes: Sure.

Are you on anything, Sir John?

Sir John Potter writes: About £300,000 a year.

Sir John Potter will be back. Keep those questions rolling in!

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