Letter from the Editor

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The Independent Online
Now then. Sometimes one just has to apologise, fulsomely, abjectly, the brow sweat-beaded, shoulders lolling, lips wet with penitence. On Tuesday, we went for Gordon Brown on the front page, reporting criticism of his team's leaking against other Labour MPs, and comparing the shadow Chancellor, in a photo-montage, with a character in the film Reservoir Dogs.

So listen, guys. I'm sorry. It was unfair - wrong - badly researched. It was in fact Mr Orange whose head we replaced with Gordon Brown's, thus leaving two Mr Browns, alongside Mr Blond and Mr White and Co. As I say, just bad journalism.

I'll say this for New Labour, it can still make jokes at its own expense. I was invited (non-paying guest) to listen to Tony Blair at a fund-raising London bash on Wednesday night. Among those present, and speaking, was Prescott, J. The Labour leader paid him a handsome tribute, lauding his loyalty and forbearance. As an example, Blair said that Prescott had been travelling south from his constituency and caught the very end of a news bulletin on the car radio - something about the ``decision to privatise state pensions''. Cursing, Prescott reflected that he'd been cut out of yet another Labour policy shift. Only later was it gently explained to him that this was a Conservative announcement.

Meanwhile, all around, was the unmistakeable murmuring sound of an establishment changing sides. Perhaps the most politically revealing, sign-of-the-times comment came from another guest, whose firm specialises in privatisations. That company, once fiercely pro-Conservative, had changed its policy, he told me cheerfully: ``We no longer back parties, we back governments.'' Phew! Just in time!

Reflections on titles, week two. Letters have come in both for and against the idea that The Independent should abandon printing people's titles - Lords, Professors, Drs and so on. Pros and antis arrive in roughly equal quantities. The letters against titles tend to be breezily democratic; readers who want them kept say we should give as much information as possible and that, in the words of Charles Brodie of Warwickshire, getting rid of them would ``add greatly to the dullness of nations''.

For myself, I am resolutely irresolute. Many are simply out of date pomposities - if Roy Jenkins is better known than Lord Jenkins, stick with Roy. But it seems sensible to use titles where not doing so would confuse the reader and where they add really useful information. They are, or ought to be, little more than formalised adjectives. Tabloid papers, after all, have developed a utilitarian title language of their own. Not Mr Jones, but ``Lout Jones''. Not Miss Fox, but ``Page Three Stunner Sam''. And these are, in their way, as specific and useful as ``Esquire'' or ``Mistress'' once were. Perhaps, in the course of time, these will become fixed and traditional too; so that, in the 2050s people will unthinkingly address one another: ``Fine morning, Love Cheat McDonald ... '' ``Indeed it is, Wild Child Reilly.''

On the other hand, I have been reminded that anti-traditional naming rarely works, while finishing a magnificent and harrowing book about the Russian Revolution - A People's Tragedy, by Orlando Figes. Figes recounts the names Bolsheviks chose for their children when they were ``Octobered'' (rather than christened). These included obvious plays on Lenin, Marx and Trotsky. But some, believing that the West was more advanced, chose any Western word to hand. Thus there were little Bolsheviks toddling around in the Twenties who answered to Traviata, Embryo, and Vinaigrette.

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