Richard Ingrams: Great wealth can be a very useful thing in politics


What Dr Johnson called "the insolence of wealth" characterised the career of the late Sir James Goldsmith, and it seems to be the same sort of story with his son Zac, recently elected as Tory MP for Richmond Park.

Zac, described as David Cameron's adviser on green issues, now faces embarrassing questions, raised by Channel 4 News this week, about his election expenses. The accusation is that he spent large sums on such items as 200 blue anoraks with an "I back Zac" panel on the rear, but arranged his accounts so that the true cost was concealed.

Even prior to the election Goldsmith had made a donation of £264,000 for the notional use of an office and staff to the Richmond Park Conservative Party, prompting suggestions that despite the great Reform Act of 1832, there were still ways whereby very rich men could buy their way into parliament.

Responding to the Channel 4 News report, Zac described it as "entirely dishonest, totally misleading and in my view profoundly unethical". That strikes the authentic Goldsmith note of humbug. His father Sir James, however, would not have approved. He himself would by now have issued a barrage of libel writs against Channel 4, alleging a Marxist conspiracy against him. So Zac still has a lot to learn about how to deal with his critics.

The starstruck heart of New Labour

One of the most moving passages in Lord Mandelson's newly published memoir describes Tony Blair's encounter with Mick Jagger at a London dinner party. "Tony summoned up his courage and went up to Mick. Looking him straight in the eye he said, 'I just want to say how much you've always meant to me.' For a moment I thought he might ask for an autograph," mocks author Mandelson. But he has no right to mock, as he himself is known to have been guilty of exactly the same sort of cringe-making sycophancy towards the rackety icons of pop.

When Mandelson discovered that Blair's so-called Middle East peace envoy, the former pop music impresario Lord Levy, was hosting a fundraising dinner party at which the guest of honour was to be George Michael, he bombarded Levy with phone calls begging him for an invitation – which he eventually got. But unfortunately George Michael turned out to be more interested in talking to Blair than to the Prince of Darkness, much to the latter's disappointment.

Whatever else, such incidents reveal the cultural void at the heart of the New Labour project.

Embarrassment all round as Megrahi lives

By failing to die as predicted by Britain's top cancer specialist, the "Lockerbie bomber" Abdel Basset al-Megrahi has embarrassed David Cameron, who is now worried that the controversy over his release on compassionate grounds could cast a shadow over his visit to Washington next week. Accordingly, our ambassador in Washington, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, has issued an apparently heartfelt statement claiming that Megrahi's release was a mistake and is regretting "the continuing anguish" that it has caused to families of the Lockerbie victims. In addition, it is now claimed that BP was in some way responsible for Megrahi's release, as it helped to further good relations with Libya's Colonel Gaddafi.

While the media pursue these red herrings, the most likely reason for Megrahi's release will go unmentioned. It is generally forgotten that, at the time of his release, he was engaged in a lengthy appeal hearing against his original conviction. Evidence showing the flimsiness of the case against him would have been produced; well-founded allegations of the bribery of witnesses and the possible planting of evidence on the crash site by the CIA would have been aired. It could all have ended with the exposure of one of the most scandalous miscarriages of justice ever acknowledged in a British court. No wonder that in the circumstances the Justice Minister, Jack Straw, was so keen to see the back of Megrahi and the discontinuation of his appeal hearing.