Richard Ingrams: Fearless crusader and a bleak forecast for Labour

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The Independent Online

Chris Mullin, the one-time Labour MP and junior minister, spoke at our Oldie Literary Lunch on Tuesday about his second volume of diaries, Decline and Fall.

Like its predecessor, A View from the Foothills, it's a compelling read and at the same time a kind of lament for the old Labour Party which no longer exists. A first-rate diarist, Mullin is also a fearless crusader for unpopular causes. He famously campaigned for the Birmingham Six, and even – as he reminded me this week – dared to attack the nation's sweetheart Joanna Lumley for championing the Gurkhas who he now claims are flooding into Britain with nowhere to go.

With people like Mullin leaving – partly, I presume, because he was sacked as a minister by Tony Blair – the future for the Labour Party looks bleak. In November 2005, Mullin records a conversation with an unnamed Yorkshire MP who predicts, "I think we will lose the next election. The Tories will come to some sort of understanding with the Lib Dems and we'll find that we've opened the door to the market in health and education. And when we protest they will reply, 'But this is your policy, you started it.' We'll be vulnerable for years. Our benches will be full of ex-ministers who won't have the stomach for the fight."

Such an acrid forecast perhaps suggests that there are still some left with a grasp of what's going on even if they can't do much about it – and don't even want to be publicly identified in case they get into trouble.

Guess who's coming to dinner?

The News of the World's spokesman seems to be getting cheesed off with answering a stream of queries about the phone-hacking scandal and is beginning to show signs of petulance. Asked by this paper about seven private dinner parties that the head of the Met, Sir Paul Stephenson, enjoyed with News of the World executives over four years, he (or she) responded: "We never comment on what was discussed at private dinners but we would ask The Independent how many times the editor or senior staff met with senior policemen during the same period."

Such meetings may well have taken place. The difference is, of course, that so far as I know, The Independent is not currently the subject of a wide-ranging police investigation.

And there is another more significant difference. After all, it is not unusual for editors to meet up with policemen if only for a full and frank exchange of views. Such exchanges would normally take place over lunch and at the paper's offices. Dinners – complete, we assume, with fine wines, candlelight and After Eight mints – suggest a much cosier, more intimate relationship, proof of the highly questionable links between the Met and the Murdoch minions.

It all goes some way to explaining the lines peddled by various News of the World spokesmen about this affair from the beginning. They all thought, with good reason, that they were above the law.

How dictators can be your friends

That picture of Blair hugging Gaddafi has been widely reprinted in the past few days – further proof of our former leader's duplicity, it is said. And don't let's forget, either, that Blair was and still is a great admirer of the now deposed dictator of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak.

It's bad luck for Blair that he should be singled out for attack, the truth being that many democratic politicians, whatever they may say in public, have a sneaking affection for dictators because they envy them their power. If you're Blair, how nice it would be not to have to bother with Cabinets and parliamentary debates, not to mention tiresome election campaigns traipsing round the country.

As for your political opponents, torture may be going a bit far but what wouldn't you give to be able to put them away for unspecified periods without the bother of a court hearing?

There are plenty of historical precedents for Blair's admiration of Mubarak; witness this tribute to Stalin by the Labour statesman Stafford Cripps, a former ambassador in Moscow: "Direct, honest-minded, no pretensions, no sign of wishing to be a personage: completely absorbed in scientific humanism and bringing health and happiness to all the people."

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