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With the election campaign in effect begun, those readers who have decided to remain in the country are already starting to attack us for being either pathetically pro-Labour or dumbly pro-Conservative. Since the letters are arriving at a similar rate and since I have been again informed by senior people in all the parties that The Independent is regarded as ``unfriendly'', it seems to me that we are probably - on balance, and not every day - about right.

Yet we are biased, of course - in editorials, on the comment pages, and in cartoons. We are biased towards our own agenda, which has grown with the paper, and which is based on political reform, free markets and pro- Europeanism. Those views, argued in detail in numerous leaders, provide a template against which we can measure the parties' positions.

And then what?

First, this paper will never tell its readers how to vote - that is a patronising, offensive habit, which assumes that newspaper readers are docile mental serfs to be shooed into one pen or another.

But second, I think we should come to some kind of collective conclusion by the end of the campaign - how we would use our vote if we had one. That doesn't mean we become a party paper, any more than a thoughtful, independent-minded voter who finally plumps one way or another on polling day necessarily becomes a party supporter from then on. But after years of finger-stabbing on every other issue, it seems a little odd to suddenly turn coy on this one.

Not yet, though - despite a moment at the beginning of the week when it seemed as if we were going to have to come off the fence. Tony Blair was reported to have converted to voting reform, which is a key Independent issue, and the main missing element of Labour reformism. How could we pretend to be neutral between two sides, one of which was radically reformist and pro-European and the other of which wasn't? A nervous moment, with a slight squirm of trousered buttock on editorial chair-leather. Then Mr Blair denied it all.

One of the most engaging complaints of the week arrived unsigned and without an address. It purported to be from Aaaeec!, or the Association for the Advancement of American English in European Culture.

The pith of the communication runs thus: ``Hi there, Congratulations, you're the kinda person we would like to thank for all your help... Here's merely a few of our successes which YOU have made possible, just by saying: Guy, Movie, Smart, Railroad, Jerk, Vacation, Butt, Garbage, Trunk, Hood, Sunup, Sundown, and so on... So keep up the good work and with YOUR help, the crappy dead English of Milton, Elliot, Lawrence, Wolf, Speight, Wood and so many more will be dead and buried.''

Alert (smart) readers will have detected a note of irony, which may or may not relate to the misspellings of two of the Great Names. (And which Wood, by the way?)

There are two things that need to be said about Americanish. The first is that it is very irritating, but the second is that it is, in some cases, irresistible. Language, like culture, is a struggle for survival between the strong and the weak, the centre and the periphery. It's a struggle which dialects and whole languages are constantly losing. The price we pay for speaking a successful world language (unlike, say, Dutch) is that it is constantly changed and eroded at home by how it is used elsewhere. Linguistically, there are many worse fates than that.