Letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
We mention today the "battle of the biographies" in which our own Don Macintyre takes on the Independent on Sunday's Paul Routledge in rival versions of the life of Peter Mandelson. Biographing (if that's the word) politicians is one of the traditional cottage industries for Westminster journalism.

Most of the key players in New Labour have had the treatment. There's been Blair (by John Rentoul of The Independent and by Jon Sopel of the BBC), John Prescott (by Colin Brown of The Independent) and Gordon Brown - no relation - by Routledge again. Robin Cook's life, loves and times are being prepared by a man from the Financial Times. Now it's Mandelson's turn.

For politicians, "getting the book" is a rite of arrival, on a par with becoming a Privy Counsellor, but better.

Some readers, however, may be wondering why so many Indy journalists are writing biographies in the first place. Is it because they are they very poor? No, is my answer to that. They are not poor enough. All our political staff are exceedingly well-paid in kind, receiving monthly parcels of rye-bread, candles, biro refills, industrial alcohol, evaporated milk and hair-oil, for which they are exceedingly grateful.

Is it because they are not working at the day job? Well, Sunday political journalists, as is well known, do very little anyway. Most of their time is spent lounging around in silk pyjamas, drinking liqueurs with their pinkies raised and discussing their love lives in tones of languid boredom. (This is particularly true of Mr Routledge.)

As for the rest, they work very hard, but save time by rarely washing or changing their clothes. No, the simple reason is that these chaps are highly talented and in great demand. Whether that is also true of their subjects, I leave the reader to judge.

The Royal Opera's Nozzi di Figaro has been heavily attacked, first by the Royal Corps of Newspaper Critics - including our own - and then by Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP and culture committee chairman, who wildly suggested that the poor reviews strengthened the case for some management firings. I went to see it this week and hugely enjoyed it - singing, direction, set and all.

Yet for all I know, the critics were right as critics. Their judgements are sophisticated and essential in keeping up standards. But for the rest of us, it's important to remember that the same show, film or concert, judged second-rate by a critic of exquisite taste and elephantine memory, can still feel wonderful and liberating to the common herd. In short, believe what you read, but don't necessarily be put off.

I have a wodge of letters taking us to task for hypocrisy in running a leader on the importance of spelling.

Brigit Rohowsky from Dulwich was "appalled by the pomposity and inappropriateness" of the editorial. Peter Fooks from Nottingham pointed out that The Independent crossword on the same day as the leader apparently contained the answer "extravert". John Andrews of Lewes claims that we spoke recently of someone having a "hair lip" (and that we didn't mean moustache).

All I can say is that our modestly-sized staff produces, in only a few intense hours at the end of the average day, up to 60,000 words, or the equivalent of a small novel, and that the mistakes are, though too many, also comparatively few. In the same bundle of letters of complaint, for instance, adding up to perhaps 400 words, I found five spelling errors or serious errors of punctuation. Of the errors we do make, most are first edition mistakes, corrected for the bulk of the daily run.