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An elderly American couple approach a policeman near Leicester Square.

Woman: Hi there! Can you tell us how to get to the National Picture Gallery?

Policeman: Gnf mnf fnf!

Woman: Excuse me?

Policeman: Bloomin’ respirator. That’s better. National Gallery? Straight down, then right. Can’t miss it.

Woman: Is that thing for hay fever? Herb here gets terrible hay fever.

Policeman: (shiftily) That’s right Madam. Nothing else seems to work.

Woman: Is that vest bullet-proof?

Policeman: It’s certainly shower-proof. Can’t be too careful with the British weather.

Man: Jeepers, that’s a big gun. Is that a Heckler Koch? I could use a thing like that back home for shooting deer.

Policeman: (patting gun) It’s for reassuring the public, sir.

Man: I’m sure as hell reassured by it. We thought the Brits didn’t like guns. Seems you’re getting more American every day. We hear you cops shot a guy dead on the subway last week.

Policeman: Unfortunate that. Illegal immigrant.

Man: Don’t worry, son. We shoot those guys back home too.

Woman: We really appreciate the support Britain has given the US in our crusade against Muslim terror.

So few countries were willing to become targets by helping us invade Iraq. That’s why Herb and me didn’t cancel our vacation here. Would you like a “Fight for Freedom” button?

Policeman: No thanks.

Woman: I could pin it on your shower-proof vest. It might deflect a bullet. Policeman: No, really.

Woman: We were thinking of visiting Notting Hill. We loved the film with Hugh Grant.

Policeman: (doubtfully) They might still have cordons up in Notting Hill.

Man: Cordons?

Policeman: For, er . . . growing the fruit! Cause terrible traffic congestion. I’d avoid Notting Hill.

Man: Is any London neighbourhood too dangerous to visit?

Policeman: Nowhere is more dangerous than anywhere else at the moment. Just try to stay away from unattended luggage and er . . . attended luggage. And stations. And trains. And buses.

Man: We’ll catch a cab. Fight for freedom!

Woman: And have a nice day! Policeman: (To himself, as his radio squawks into life) Some hope, with a 12-hour shift and no break.

Get off my stats

Campaigners have always excelled in soliciting public support with leading questions. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (or Campaign to Prevent Riff-raff Encroachment) on Wednesday published a poll in this vein. It found 84 per cent of respondents agreed “Green Belt land should remain open and undeveloped”.

This followed a poll with opposite conclusions from the Campaign for More and Better Homes, an outfit set up by the CBI and construction firms, among others. The CMBH (or Campaign for More Bunce for Housebuilders) found that 74 per cent of people in the South East “believe more new housing is needed”.

The poky little houses of many greenfield developments are an eyesore if you can afford better. But they represent a step up for people working hard to escape run-down estates. It is mean-spirited to deny these home buyers the better environment you yourself enjoy. The Green Belt should be judiciously developed. The CPRE has hopefully met its match in the CMBH, a body every bit as partisan as itself.

One nation

Our society can only become more painfully divided unless we recognise that multiculturalism has failed us. The time has come for groups that have pursued a separate identity to integrate into the mainstream of British life. I speak of Conservatives. For too long they have lived apart in such areas as Maidenhead and Wilmslow, crowding the streets in their traditional garb of brass-buttoned blazers or floral dresses.

Their customs seem strange to many urban Britons. Both pork and alcohol are permitted, and for the observant Conservative, an intoxicating beverage called “gin” has sacramental significance. Life in Tory communities revolves around the golf club. Here, men pray for the restoration of the hegemony their political faith enjoyed last century. Women play a subordinate role. They may even be barred from approaching the holy of holies, or “bar”.

Reaching out to Conservatives is made more difficult by their lack of a clear leadership. But, in the crisis engulfing their community, support appears to be coalescing around the not-very-moderate David Davis. It is for him to change the backward-looking culture of his people, or risk forever alienating their fellow Britons.

jonathan.guthrie@ft.com

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