Friday, 16 March 2007

16 March 2007

So there I was, yesterday morning, scanning the newspapers as is my custom, and there were three major stories: the vote in the House of Commons on whether to renew the Trident nuclear missile programme; events in Zimbabwe; and David Cameron’s decision to change the way he parts his hair.

Trident, tick: we’d covered that. Zimbabwe, tick: we’d covered that too. But Mr Cameron’s tonsorial revolution: how could we have missed it? How come not one of our legions of busy beaver political correspondents had warned us that something of major significance had occurred in the barber’s chair?

When I was at school in the 60s, nuclear weapons and Rhodesia (as it then was) were two of the biggest political issues of the day. (There was also, of course, the war in Vietnam.) Every Easter, tens of thousands of CND-ers used to march from the weapons factory at Aldermaston to London (or from London to Aldermaston in alternate years), and I also remember protesters demonstrating against the white Rhodesians’ unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 with chants of “One Man, One Vote”.

Forty years on, guess what: we’re still talking about those same two issues. But where are the thousands of demonstrators? Most of them seem to have moved on. I was thinking the other day of a global phone-in programme I did with Tony Blair shortly before the Iraq war. Most of the calls, as you’d expect, were about Iraq and terrorism, but there was one from Zimbabwe: Mr Blair, said the caller, please don’t forget about us.

Has he forgotten? Have we forgotten? Well, I can’t answer for Mr Blair, but as for us, we’re not allowed to operate in Zimbabwe – there are no resident foreign correspondents there any more – so it’s exceedingly difficult to report on a regular basis what’s really going on. And of course there’s Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Iran, and North Korea – so many other crises, so many other debates. Oh yes, and there’s Mr Cameron’s new hair-do too.

But no, as far as The World Tonight is concerned, we haven’t forgotten about Zimbabwe, or about the very real debate over Britain’s future role as a nuclear power. We have covered, and we will continue to cover, both issues on the programme whenever we can. (If you missed our interview with the senior Zimbabwean opposition MP Tendai Biti, who spoke to us on Tuesday from his hospital bed after being beaten up by the police, it’s still available via the Listen Again button.)

I’ve left the biggest story of the week till last. Blue Peter faked the result of a competition. I’m still in shock: it was like hearing that there’s no Father Christmas. But perhaps the legendary former Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter was right when she told us on Wednesday’s programme that there could be a silver lining: at some point, children do need to learn that things aren’t always what they seem. Maybe so, but please, not on Blue Peter …

Oh, and I hope you’ll spare a thought for our friend and colleague Alan Johnston, who at the time of writing is still missing in the Gaza Strip. He has spent nearly three years living and working there, in often difficult and dangerous circumstances. We hope to see him back home very soon.

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