LETTER from THE EDITOR

Click to follow
The Independent Online
John Major is upset with us for a mean caricature of him that we published on Thursday. It illustrated some words of his, remarkable words, that appeared to repudiate some part of his own party's reputation in favour of an eyeball-to-eyeball relationship with the voter. Here they are again: ``Don't let whatever doubts you may have had about the Conservative Party in the past weigh with you, when the future of the United Kingdom may be at stake. Think about it. Think seriously. Think again. Look in my eyes and know this. I will always deal fair and true by this great nation.''

Many will find the words moving. I, frankly, found them creepy. Anyway, the paper was mildly satirised by BBC's Newsnight programme because the words quoted were not actually spoken by the Prime Minister - he departed from his text, as he is doing increasingly often. So I owe readers an explanation. The words were in a written text released to journalists as Mr Major's. We checked with Conservative Central Office: were they happy to stand by them, to have them quoted? Yes, yes, very happy. So we went ahead. This still seems to me to be perfectly reasonable. But it raises the question, I suppose, of what words a politician owns. For television, anything that cannot be filmed does not exist. Words on paper are spectral, unreal: words spoken to camera are real. For writing journalists, words are words are words. Readers can make up their own minds.

A very strange thing happened yesterday. As I was walking to lunch, tiny fingertips started to fiddle with my hair. A distant thrumming, drumming sound began. Almost imperceptibly, the pavement around me began to darken. From it, there came a sharp, lemon-and-urine smell that seemed vaguely familiar. Around me, people stretched their necks backwards and held their palms out, like saints in Old Master paintings. What the hell was going on? After a few moments of intense concentration, I realised: it was that almost forgotten phenomenon ``rain'', a form of atmospheric precipitation that has not been known in these parts for a long time. As London villagers huddled and did their traditional rain-dance, a kind of waddle-sprint towards the nearest cappucino bar, I remembered why the weather had changed: it has been brought on by the start of the cricket season, and signifies what the English call summer.

This month's edition of the Literary Review features a review of a new biography of Cyril Connolly, who was everything that the finest cultured 20th-century Englishman aspired to be - in other words, a captivating, brilliant, self-pitying failure. He would lie for days on end in bed sucking a pencil and muttering, ``Poor Cyril, poor Cyril.'' Auberon Waugh's review describes Connolly post-Eton and Oxford thus: ``(he) spent the rest of his life collecting advances for books never written and bumming around as a freelance journalist, meeting people and having a good time, until he settled on The Sunday Times, explaining his angst to anyone who would listen.'' This strikes me as a good description of how most of the really worthwhile and interesting people I know behave even now ... except, of course, that it wouldn't be The Sunday Times they settled on.

Andreas Whittam-Smith, our founder-editor, wrote an excellent meditation this week on the truths that are revealed by photo-journalism, as distinct from words-journalism. He didn't know it, but timely confirmation of his view comes in today's magazine, where you will find a description in pictures of the Conservative Party that is compelling and irrefutable.

Comments