Letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
A strange week we've been having at Canary Wharf. Security guards who normally scowl in shirt-sleeves were dressed like the Paraguayan National Guard, and bearing their teeth in a passable imitation of good humour as we came to work. Red, white and blue flower-displays erupted like fireworks around the cathedral-sized marble foyer of the main tower. In the wine bars and chocolate shops you could see men with bulging jackets and no necks muttering into lapel-fixed microphones. That's a summit - roughly the same atmosphere, I suppose, as in an Elizabethan country house when the Royal Court was jolting slowly your way.

Upstairs, on the 38th floor, where Blair and Jospin met, the transformation was extraordinary: great modern art on cobalt and ochre walls; glowingly colourful rugs, lights and furniture scattered everywhere ... And all in the best possible taste. As a peroxide-blonde Daily Telegraph person commented, ``I've seen the fuchsia and it works.'' (Are we too proud on this newspaper to steal execrable puns? We are not.)

But is this trendy, style-before-substance fluff - what spin-doctors would do if they were interior designers instead? No. The self-confidence of the summit setting, and the genuine oomph of the images of a newly self-confident country are rooted in a truth about Britain, even if it is nothing like the whole truth. For years we have been looking at French style and brio, and wishing we had a little of that for ourselves. Well, now we do. It is permissible, just occasionally, to be both British and cheerful.

Those who think billionaires are likely to be wizened, colourless little men should try Ted Turner for size. The record-breaking philanthropist and CNN boss was in London this week; it was cheering, as well as entertaining, to meet someone whose views about Rupert Murdoch are even more extreme than my own. We discussed his view that Murdoch could be beaten in the United States, ``and then wa'll all come over here and liberate the UK".' He was very clear that British politicians have failed to stand up to the lizard-tongued mogul. He's right.

Imagine this. Some Latvian Jews arrive in Britain seeking asylum. They have not been personally persecuted, they say, but the political situation in the former Russian empire is a bit volatile and England seems a good place to make money. So what are they? Political asylum-seekers? Economic migrants? I think we'd bang them up pretty sharpish at Dover.

We did not always behave so. Had the authorities in 1921 behaved thus to Isaiah Berlin's parents, then this country would have lost one of its great intellectuals, a dynamic world force for good. I am not suggesting that the current Hungarian and Slovak gypsy families seeking asylum necessarily harbour a clutch of liberal philosophers - still less that that should be our prime response to them. But these islands have been successful partly because they have been regularly irrigated by fresh waves of people with something to prove.

The idea of necessary immigration and wanted incomers - people of culture, skill and energy - needs to be revived. If we are really to be a ``young country'' again, maybe we need more than Conran-style style. A new small unit should be set up in the Home Office to encourage certain groups to immigrate. It should be named the SIB. Not the Special Investigations Branch, but the Sir Isaiah Berlin department.

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