LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
The last week of November is always a busy time for politics; something in the mix of sharply cold weather, boozy parties and Christmas looming ignites the atmosphere of the Commons. Good ructions and spectacular fallings-out are almost guaranteed. This has been so for decades: now, the cramming-in of the Budget, along with the Queen's Speech and the opening stages of a series of major bills makes the early winter almost ridiculously busy.

I hope readers enjoyed, if that's the word, our extensive Budget coverage, with its unBudget alternative paper. Last year, by some misfortune, the two papers were folded in reverse order, so that we appeared to carry nothing about the Budget on the following day. BBC's Newsnight cheerily waved the paper to camera, satirically noting that ``The Independent has boldly decided to ignore the Budget completely''. Terrible embarrassment. (And the effect on sales? They soared.)

Still on a political theme, lunch of the week was the Parliamentarian of the Year award, run by The Spectator magazine and funded by Highland Park whisky. It is always a convivial affair, in a curiously old-fashioned sense.

Michael Heseltine, the guest of ``honour'', was roundly mocked by Frank Johnson, The Spectator's editor - his role trying to sort out the North- west after the Toxteth riots being described as ``the proconsul of Liverpool - the Scousers' Curzon'', and so on. Various winners were implausibly ``reminded'' of stories about Pathan tribesmen, the President of Magdalen, the Japanese emperor.

Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem MP, told us his award as ``Member to Watch'' was the first prize he'd won for 30 years, when he'd run a 60-yard dash against a young Black athlete in Oakland, California, by the name of OJ Simpson.

One feels, in short, transported back in time, which is appropriate for a Spectator-organised event. But the best remark was entirely up to date and came from Robin Cook, who'd been awarded ``debater of the year''.

Cook described finding himself sitting beside Heseltine earlier in the week. The deputy Prime Minister turned to him and remarked: ``Ah. We have never had a civilised conversation. Shall we try?'' Cook went on to deprecate the savage tone of modern politicking. It seemed, he said, that the less ideological distance there was between the parties, the less MPs seemed prepared to accept one another's personal integrity.

This is quite true. It is the first time, to my knowledge, that it has been said so openly by a senior politician. People from all parties nodded and muttered that Cookie was quite right, and it was poisoning politics. But was it only the convivial, whisky-scented atmosphere talking, or will they still be thinking that next week, too?

A reader from Exeter criticises the paper for referring to victims baldly by their surnames, without the prefix Mr, Ms, or whatever, while doctors, lawyers, politicians and so on are generally given as Mr. The formality and lack of it in names varies from paper to paper and from article to article. We say ``Smith'' when referring to artists - ``Mr Jagger'', in the context of a review, would seem absurdly 1960s-Times-ish - and when talking disapprovingly of politicians. But there are no real rules. As with so many other crumbling conventions, the whole thing is a mess. But when the reader complains that describing a dead girl by her surname is ``offensive ... just crass'', I can only agree. We shall stop doing that.

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