They lead the world, but can they spell Bophuthatswana?

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The Independent Online
IT GIVES me great pleasure to welcome back Sir John Potter to answer all your questions about world politics. Sir John, of course, was personal assistant to Sir Bernard Ingham, who was personal assistant to plain Margaret Thatcher, as she then was.

All yours, Sir John.

Can you explain this Whitewater scandal to me? I can't make head or tail of what is going on.

The Americans always have to have a scandal going on, the longer-running the better. This is not because they particularly like scandals any more than anyone else but because they have to have something going on that they think they can understand.

Americans do not, on the whole, understand what is going on. Nor does anybody else, much, but as the Americans seem to have inherited the mantle of world leadership, it is more important that the Americans understand the world scene than that anyone else does.

Unfortunately, they tend to understand it less. They prefer to concentrate on something they do understand, and that is what the Whitewater scandal is all about and what the Irangate scandal was all about.

So what is the Whitewater scandal all about?

I don't know. It is much better in these cases to wait until there is an inquiry and an outcome.

Was there ever an inquiry into the Irangate scandal?

Yes. It reported a month or two ago.

And what was the outcome?

It decided that almost everyone from Reagan and Bush downwards was involved and guilty.

And what happened?

Nothing. The report was published almost without attracting any attention.


The scandal had outlived any useful purpose it may have had.

Could you please explain what the current Italian election is all about?

Certainly. Politics in Italy is evolving towards a state of affairs in which there will be as many political parties as there are voters, with a party for each person. Indeed, if the Italian talent for fraud is maintained, there may well be more parties than there are people. It will be democracy in its purest form - one party per person.

That wouldn't be very effective, would it?

I didn't say it would be effective. I said it would be pure. The purer democracy gets, the more inefficient it gets. In some areas of British life it is becoming impossible to get anything done at all, what with all the inquiries and planning permission and democratic checks and balances necessary. That is one reason the government feels driven to set up so many unaccountable quangos.

Is that what will happen in Italy?

Italy's problems are different from ours. Their main one is to think of a way in which they can get the Mafia to pay their taxes properly. If they could do that, all their problems would be over.

Incidentally, whatever happened to Bophuthatswana?

In what way?

Has it vanished?

Yes. The South Africans got fed up with having a country on their doorstep that nobody could spell or pronounce.

So why didn't they just rename it, or spell it differently?

Experience shows that whenever you rename a country you either run into trouble or nobody uses the new name.

Like where?


Where's that?

You see? It's what the Burmese government has renamed Burma.

Why do people go on calling it Burma, then?

Because the Burmese government is one of the most thuggish and unpleasant regimes in the world, and nobody wants to do anything they want them to do.

Hmm. When ownership of Hong Kong reverts to China in 1997, will the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens championship continue to be held there, or will the Chinese step firmly on this capitalist game?

It will probably be held elsewhere. This hasn't been much mentioned in the press, but all the new buildings that have mushroomed in Hong Kong in the last 10 or 20 years are fully dismantleable and rebuildable, so as the deadline approaches I think you will find everything being taken to bits and reassembled elsewhere. This new pounds 70m stadium just opened in Hong Kong - well, you don't think they'd have built it if they couldn't take it with them, do you?

What about Chris Patten?

I think they are leaving him behind.

No, I mean, why is Chris Patten making such a fuss about introducing democracy if he knows that everything must go?

To create a smoke screen while everything is numbered and packed away in boxes.

Sir John Potter will be back again soon.