I've seen into the future and it's full of Tony Blurs

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The Independent Online
FAY WELDON once wrote a novel called The Cloning of Joanna May in which a vindictive husband stole some of his wife's DNA and created four younger replicas of her without her knowledge. In the novel, the wife was devastated when she found out; so were the androids in Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's brilliant futuristic fantasy, when they discovered that scientists had implanted genuine memories into their circuitry, fooling them into thinking they were human beings rather than robots.

Scaremongering tosh, of course. The advantages of cloning are obvious, far outweighing petty drawbacks such as predictability, lack of diversity, everyone looking and sounding the same. One of the few organisations forward- thinking enough to get into the field at an early stage is the Labour Party which, according to a leaked memo which has come into my possession, has been beavering away for months on a top-secret project. Codenamed "Project Replicant" - a nice touch, showing New Labour isn't as humourless or uncultured as its enemies suggest - its aim is to put an end to unseemly rows like the one last week over whether some bolshie woman from Islington should stand as parliamentary candidate for Leeds North East at the next general election.

With the imaginative flair that is the hallmark of Tony Blair's inner circle, the leaked memo looks forward to a new dawn for Labour - "I have seen the future and it works", a euphoric but anonymous hand has scribbled on my filched copy. I can now reveal that one of Blair's very first moves on becoming leader was to assemble a team of top scientists, geneticists and the like, who immediately began work on samples of his DNA. By the end of the century, if everything goes to plan, they should be able to turn out hundreds (I believe the target is 350) of smiling, hand-shaking, sweet-talking copies of the Labour leader.

No more embarrassing revelations about Labour candidates who refused to pay the most iniquitous tax ever imposed on this country. No more horrid articles attacking the leadership in left-wing papers with minute circulations. And, of course, no more backbench revolts. Just a line-up of smug, heterosexual, public-school-educated, middle-aged men with adoring wives (see this column, passim), houses in Islington and children at opted-out schools, all bleating the same refrain: Blair, blur ... oops, Blair.

ACTUALLY, what went on in the Labour Party last week is a sad reminder that the Blairites don't understand the consequences of backing away, as they seem to be doing, from reform of the electoral system. Without PR, the big parties have to offer a home to a broad spectrum of opinion or risk a situation in which significant numbers of voters come to feel completely marginalised. It's hard to believe that Liz Davies, whose offence seems to be little more than fervent support of a style of politics New Labour regards as distasteful and outdated, falls so far outside its traditional centre-left coalition that she had to be repudiated in this spectacular fashion.

New Labour is beginning to remind me of the Bogomils, that dreary puritan sect which made such a nuisance of itself in the Balkans in the 11th century. Certainly Labour's zeal for seeing everything in simple terms - be like us or you're out - verges on the Manichean. Dennis Skinner, to his credit, voted against barring Liz Davies at Wednesday's meeting of the national executive. Perhaps it had occurred to him that Skinner, D, would encounter a few problems of his own if he had the bad luck to present himself as an eager young parliamentary candidate in Tony Blair's reformed party.

THREE representatives of the national team raised questions nine years ago at a meeting of the sport's governing body about his "attitude and behaviour". They reported anxiety about his "constant suggestive approaches and advances" and fears that he might be putting younger women under pressure. He was rumoured to have had affairs with one swimmer and three officials. He had a "penchant" for visits to red-light districts.

In 1987 he was given a formal warning by the university he worked for after a student said he had asked her to undress and then stripped off himself to conduct a "fat and fitness" test. On Thursday, Paul Hickson - head swimming coach for the British team at the 1988 Olympics - finally went to prison for 17 years for rape and indecent assault.

After a handful of highly-publicised acquittals in the past couple of years, various aggrieved commentators leapt into print suggesting that false accusations of rape had become so common that innocent men went in fear of being dragged into court. The Hickson case demonstrates, on the contrary, what many women suspect: that it's still dauntingly difficult to get such allegations taken seriously, especially when the man in question is in a powerful position.

TONIGHT, in one of the most dramatic settings imaginable - a black basalt Roman theatre in the desert - a Syrian chorus and four British soloists will stage a performance of Dido and Aeneas. It's already played in the small Roman theatre in Palmyra, where the worn stone seats were full to overflowing, and in Damascus, where a new opera house has just opened. "Opera has taken Damascus by storm," my friend Peter Clark told me in an excited fax from the British Council office in Syria.

Nine Syrian cabinet members, plus one Lebanese, attended the first night in Damascus and more will be present this evening. "Can you imagine," asked another friend,"nine British cabinet ministers attending an opera together?" The point, surely, is that no one in their right mind would want to go anywhere with nine of John Major's ministers. Even if you were one of them yourself. And even if it meant missing Pavarotti.