Colonialism has its moments

Comparing the Falklands with the Israeli Occupied Territories was a step too far. Plus: unconventional spirits, and becoming an adjective
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The Independent Online

Keen as we all undoubtedly are on such tantalising abstractions as "international co-operation" and "mutual goodwill", it was difficult not to feel that the Argentine foreign minister, Hector Timerman, has made rather an ass of himself. Visiting London last week, Mr Timerman was clearly concerned to force the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands to the top of the international agenda. Demanding face-to-face talks between London and Buenos Aires, he observed that next month's referendum, in which the islanders will decide whether or not to retain their British status, "doesn't mean anything" and declined to accept a letter from the Falklands parliament when some of its members confronted him at the House of Commons.

Further controversy was stirred when Mr Timerman claimed that "not one country" supported Britain's right to govern the Falklands, and likened the forthcoming plebiscite to asking settlers in the Occupied Territories whether they wanted to remain Israeli. It is worth pointing out, of course, that the campaign to recapture the Falklands inflamed certain sensibilities which a liberal-minded internationalist would probably prefer to keep dormant. Staying in a hostel for the homeless in Liverpool in the summer of 1982, courtesy of a friend who was on the staff, I happened to be in the television room as the news brought footage of one of the first returning warships. The hostel's residents – many ex-servicemen – greeted the pictures from the Portsmouth quayside with fusillades of cheering, while their predominantly young and lefty attendants looked on in queasy silence.

From the angle of the Falkland islanders, whose interests even Mr T has promised to respect, the Argentine stance is horribly disingenuous. Mr Timerman's invocation of Israeli settlers on the West Bank is simply a false comparison: theirs is an incursion into inhabited territory, whereas the Falklanders have been there ever since Captain John Strong first landed on the islands in 1690, at which point in time no one on the South American mainland (300 miles away) knew that they existed. As for "colonialism" and its legacy, we have already abandoned over a million citizens of Hong Kong to the gang of oligarchs in Beijing. It would be a terrible pity if 3,000 Falkland Islanders were thrown upon the mercies of Mr Timerman and his fellow autocrats in Buenos Aires.


Reading the obituaries of Reg Presley, lead singer of The Troggs, who died on Monday at the age of 71, one became aware – once again – of the fallibility of the British educational system. Presley, whose hollering vocals adorn the 1966 hit single "Wild Thing", turns out to have been the darkest of dark horses: a former builder's apprentice who subsequently made a film about crop circles in and around the prehistoric monuments of Marlborough, delivered lectures on the subject of extra-terrestrials and incorporated his theories into a study entitled Wild Things They Don't Tell Us (2002). This was described by one obituarist as "a remarkable book with an intellectual depth on a par with a university professor rather than a former bricklayer from Andover".

A trawl through some of the pop personalities of a later generation reveals countless modern Presleys – bright, disaffected teenage boys with a feeling for words and history on whom formal education clearly gave up at the earliest opportunity. To read the early lyrics of, say, Paul Weller, Steven Morrissey or The Fall's Mark E Smith – full of bookish references and eye-catching figures of speech – is to note the existence of a literary sensibility which has more or less created itself, carved out a jealously guarded territory of self-expression detached from pedagogic guidance or classroom trammelling.

A first reaction – a rather snobbish one, no doubt – is to assume that this neglect of talent is a tragedy. And yet a few moments' reflection insists that nothing could be more futile than Paul Weller being despatched to read English at Oxford or Mark E Smith being encouraged to "appreciate" poetry at the feet of some whey-faced Cambridge don. The brightest blooms may flourish best in their owners' back gardens.


One of the drawbacks of having an adjective made out of your name is that its original meaning invariably flies off out of the window, while the word itself continues to be used in an all-purpose way. Accustomed to the fact that "Dickensian" has long since parted company with Charles Dickens's novels and is now employed as a synonym for "Victorian", I was nevertheless shocked to hear the Tory MP Sir Roger Gale describe the passing of the Government's same-sex marriage bill as "Orwellian".

One had always assumed, on the evidence of Nineteen Eighty-Four, that "Orwellian" had something to do with a totalitarian regime that enforced its diktats by means of constant surveillance and the falsification of the past, and exercised its power through a tiny oligarchical command centre. Wednesday's House of Commons debate, alternatively, featured a free and scrupulously reported vote involving the representatives of our democratically elected parliament. It turned out that what Sir Roger meant was that the Prime Minister was "redefining the lexicon". There are countless contemporary horrors that may be described as "Orwellian" – from the Gadarene take-up of technology to super-corporatism – but somehow you doubt that the gay marriage Bill is among them.