Letter From The Editor

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The Independent Online
While the rest of the nation cavorts in the snow (well, rain), wassails and sings carols around the spitting log, it must be recorded that, by and large, journalists do not love Christmas. 'Tis the season when newspapers must still come out, minus most of the things that make news easy to gather; and when many offices are struggling to function thanks to hangovers and suspicious absenteeism ("flu-like symptoms'' Ha!).

It is the time when we must trot out the ancient and traditional ``why Christmas has become too commercial'' columns. And it is the time of year when we tend to review what we have written, or, in the case of editors, caused to be written.

Looking back at the paper during 1997, I can find the odd embarrassment. We confidently predicted the end of the Millennium Dome after talks between the parties had broken down before the election. We never thought that the Tories would win but, like most people, we greatly underestimated the scale of Labour's victory. (``It's not over yet'', 24 April. In fact, it was.) We predicted a leftish, pro-European Tory breakaway. Wrong again.

Those were the worst that I could find. On the other hand, my rough audit of predictions was heavily "plus". We blew the whistle on Doncaster, and kept banging on while senior Labour people angrily assured us that everything was fine. Well before the election, we pointed out the cuts that were implicit in Gordon Brown's plans and singled out welfare reform as one of the key areas where there was bound to be trouble. Not so bad, overall, though I found going back over old copies of the paper to be a salutary experience. We are not philosophers, just hacks.

"Hack'', by the way, apparently comes from Hackney carriage - as in writers for hire, as in cabbies for hire. This explains a lot. Some of the most successful hacks, such as Richard Littlejohn, who was reported this week to be moving from the Daily Mail to The Sun for pounds 800,000 a year, are those whose views most closely resemble those of the caricature, rabidly right- wing taxi-driver.

Much gentle amusement in the office over some of the details of Andreas Whittam Smith's new job as Britain's film censor. Our founder and current columnist, a self-confessedly squeamish man, tells us he will, for instance, have to distinguish between different degrees of bondage -light, heavy, intermediate and so on. But what exactly is light bondage? Presumably it involves quantities of Sellotape and Blu-Tack.

Speaking of bondage, there has been much comment on Stephen Spielberg's stalker. The film genius has been stalked by a gay sado-masochist who has been lurking around his Hollywood home with a bag containing handcuffs, ducting tape and nipple clamps, having bought an electric shock gun and other equipment as part of his plan to abduct Spielberg and do unspeakable things to him. This must be unsettling.

As it happens, I too have a stalker. Everywhere I go, particularly during the party season, he has left little messages, passed on rumours, about how he plans to abduct me from Canary Wharf and do unspeakable things to this newspaper. The man speaks with a Scottish accent and is said to carry a bag containing promissory notes from two tycoons, plus - so I am told - editorial shackles, slightly soiled Eighties fetish gear of an ideological nature and various financial levers only obtainable on specialist premises. Oh, and the nipple clamps, of course. So if anyone comes across this Mr Andrew Neil, I trust they will report him to the proper authorities.