Cancel the millennium? Oh, why not ...

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The Independent Online
I keep reading that we have a stand-off situation in the world. What is meant by a stand-off?

It's another word for fly half. No, not that kind of stand-off. I meant a political stand-off.

Oh, well, a stand-off is to politics what gridlock is to traffic.

You mean, everything coming to a standstill?

Yes.

Has that happened ever?

It is happening now. The whole political system of the world is coming to a gradual standstill.

Why?

Because everyone is asking the impossible of everyone else before progress is made.

Could you give me an example of this?

Lord bless you, my child, I could give you a hundred thousand examples, but let us content ourselves with a look at the situation in Northern Ireland. What do we find in Northern Ireland?

I don't know. What do we find in Northern Ireland?

We find Sinn Fein/IRA refusing to call a ceasefire before talks and we find the British refusing to admit them to talks before a ceasefire.

Hmm. That's a stand-off, then?

That's not the half of it. The Catholics in Northern Ireland want to be reunited with the South and the Protestants want to remain united with Britain.

You can't have both, can you?

You can't have either, really. The South doesn't want to be linked up with the Catholics from Northern Ireland and the mainland wants to be shot of Northern Ireland altogether. Anyway, the South has troubles of its own.

Like what?

Like having to stage the Eurovision Song Contest in perpetuity, which could bankrupt the country. In fact, the Irish government has promised in secret to agree to anything Mr Major proposes if only Britain takes over the Eurovision Song Contest. Mr Major has said this is unacceptable. So the Northern Ireland situation remains.

You mean - nobody wants Northern Ireland?

Nobody. Except, possibly, the United States.

Why don't we give it to the US?

They have troubles enough already.

Such as...?

Their stand-off with their great Asian enemy.

China?

No, Japan. The US has a huge deficit and Japan has a huge surplus and if Japan called in all its debts, the US might go bust.

Is that true?

Well, it's more complicated than that, but basically, yes. And if the US went bust, it couldn't tell the rest of the world what to do.

What does it tell the rest of the world to do?

Get its act together. Shape up or ship out. Buy American. Come to Atlanta for the Olympics.

That's it? That's all the advice America has for the world?

Yes.

It's not much.

Well, it also advises people not to get into a stand-off situation, like Israel and the Arabs, Iran and Iraq, China and Taiwan, Bosnia and everyone else....

Do people take any notice?

No. At least, they won't until America practises what it preaches and ceases its stand-off situation with Cuba. You'd think the Americans might have noticed by now that they have been having a stand-off with Cuba for 40 years now and have signally failed to do anything but embitter the Cuban people.

How will the situation get better?

It won't. It's getting worse. Not only do we have political gridlock, but Britain has gone one worse because, caught in the beef ban traffic jam, Britain has been infected with the political equivalent of road rage and is refusing to collaborate with anyone in Europe. A bit like a car in a country lane refusing to back up to the only available passing place.

My goodness me.

And that's not all. Britain has now started getting in a bad temper with the millennium. Mr Heseltine has said that if not enough money is forthcoming to put on a good show for AD2000, the British government is going to block the millennium.

You mean, pretend it isn't coming?

Yes. Or at least, postpone it until AD2004 by various non-co-operational tactics.

Won't this annoy our foreign colleagues?

It can't annoy them any more than they are already. They can't stand the way we obstruct things, the way we close the game down, the way we kill the ball, the way we play for a draw, the way the British stand-off always gets the ball from the scrum-half and kicks for touch while the crowd shouts: "Oh, for God's sake, pass the ball and open out the game or we're all going to ask for our money back and go home !!"

So that's why it's called a stand-off situation?

Precisely.

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