LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
Letters are coming in from patriotic souls who, having read last week's letter, are sending their cheques to Michael Portillo at the Ministry of Defence to pay for the royal yacht (I'd proposed a voluntary tax). But one is disappointed, just a leetle disappointed, in the attitude of one's loyal readers. One detects just the faintest half-visible, barely palpable hint of sarcasm from some of you - the messages to Portillo to the effect that I am ''a sound fellow'', for instance.

And what are we to make of the fax from Paul Mack, at a Clydeside shipyard, who has sent his entire savings of pounds 1 to the Defence Secretary and adds: ''I give this amount with a heavy heart. Not out of the misconception that all Scots are mean, but as an unreconstructed republican and member of the lumpenproletariat... My brother boilermakers in Kvaerner Govan Shipyard are looking down the barrel of a P45. As my professor of jurisprudence once said, 'You have to live with contradictions'.'' See you, Paul: is this supposed to be clever, or wit? Mr Portillo will, at any rate, be most gratified.

George Brown or Ernie Bevin? That's the real question about John Prescott, whose biography by my colleague Colin Brown (Fighting Talk) was launched at a writhingly busy, smoky and convivial party in Soho this week. Prescott was there, surrounded by knots of metropolitan journalists hoping for a gaffe. Colin Brown ruminated on the fact that Prescott was judged a success on the previous Sunday morning television circuit because nothing he'd said had been reported - no gaffes, no news, no problem. But perhaps no worthwhile politics, either?

Watching Prescott weave warily through the smoke and chatter, it was impossible not to reflect on the fates of the two similarly ebullient, self-created Labour deputies who preceded him - Bevin the giant and Brown the self-destroyed. Both belonged to eras when, it seems, ebullience and personal colour were considered more acceptable and were less publicly mocked. Bevin had the certainty and bigness of spirit to succeed; George Brown proved too colourful, emotional and ill-disciplined. In the end, it comes down to toughness and intellectual self-confidence.

Well, we'll find out. Prescott is clever enough, certainly. He was shattered by failing his 11-plus exam, and must view his party's careful manoeuvring on grammar schools, which we report again today, with mixed feelings. But he doesn't have an ''untrained mind'' as people say - indeed, he was trained by none other than Raphael Samuel. I remember a long mobile phone conversation with Prescott while he described in great detail his philosophical objection to some aspect of Conservative policy while swooping, one-handed and at vast speeds, in his excessively large car through Hull. There were occasional faint horn sounds, varooms and mutters of ''bloody 'ell'' as Prescott negotiated various solid objects. No average man, I tell you, mangles grammar with quite Prescott's enthusiasm. But no average man, either, could have driven like that and briefed so cogently.

The week passes with the help of a suspicious number of telephone calls from the London Evening Standard, the UK Press Gazette and, slightly belatedly, The Guardian, asking about the rumour sweeping London that The Independent is about to ''go tabloid''. I am becoming bored with denying it. So - all right - time to come clean. We are going tabloid. The name is to be changed to The Eagle. All text will be replaced with reader-friendly cartoons. And my name is Horatio Xavier Oatcake.

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