Richard Ingrams: Our leaders know so little about our country's history

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The Independent Online

So keen was David Cameron to suck up to the Americans on his recent trip that in an interview on Sky News he told the viewers that Britain had always been "the junior partner" in the alliance. "We were the junior partner in 1940," he added, "when we were fighting the Nazis."

Cameron, despite the benefits of an Eton and Oxford education, seemed to be ignorant of the fact that the USA was not a partner of Britain in 1940. The Americans declared war on Germany only after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

It's possible perhaps that Cameron got his erroneous information about the war from Tony Blair, who once made a similar kind of remark when he too was trying to suck up to the Americans.

On another occasion Blair was on record explaining that the reason this country went to war with Hitler was because of his persecution of the Jews. Something had to be done about it, Blair said. It is alarming that we now have another Prime Minister who seems equally ignorant of his country's history.

And it's not just the war. Introducing his utopian scheme called the Big Society this week, Cameron announced that one of his prime aims is to "give power back to the people". But when was it that the people had any power? Any political power that they have had – not very much – has been fought for over several hundred years with fierce opposition from the ancestors of people like Cameron.

Trial by YouTube can work sometimes

It is not often that I write in praise of the internet. But we ought all to be grateful to YouTube if only for preserving the recent Channel 4 News spat between Jon Snow and Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith. It is excellent entertainment.

In an earlier programme, multi-millionaire Zac had been accused of falsifying his election expenses but had declined the offer to appear. When he did eventually go on air to answer questions from Snow, he made shameless use of a technique much loved by his piratical father, the late Sir James. This involves picking on irrelevant points and banging on about them at length, not allowing your interviewer to speak in the hope that time will run out and the central charges will not get mentioned.

Unfortunately for the wealthy MP, Channel 4 decided to run on and Goldsmith was eventually forced to give an account of himself. As this involved trying to explain how hundreds of posters saying "Vote for Zac Goldsmith" were a feature of the local rather than the general election, young Zac was on shaky ground and he was reduced to waving his finger like Alastair Campbell and warning Jon Snow that he bad "better watch out".

If you log on to YouTube and watch this arrogant young man, said to be a close associate of David Cameron, you may start wondering whether the new caring compassionate Conservatism is all a bit of a sham.

Life in Toad Hall after prison

Kenneth Grahame's famous creation Mr Toad, who boasted of being cleverer than all the clever men at Oxford, escaped from prison with the help of the washerwoman's daughter and returned home. Conrad Black, equally rich and boastful, has likewise managed to get out of prison and, like Toad, he is convinced, as he always has been, that he did nothing wrong. But there the resemblance ends.

Toad, for all his bragging, is a lovable character whose failings we can overlook. Conrad Black, on the other hand, is a pompous Canadian bore – arrogant, obnoxious and offensively right wing. He would never welcome the likes of Mole and Ratty into his mansion, not even to make up the numbers at dinner.

Kenneth Grahame was often asked what happened to Toad when he got out of prison and was installed once more in Toad Hall. Was he a reformed character thereafter? "Of course Toad never reformed," Grahame once wrote. "He was by nature incapable of it." I fear the same may well turn out to be true of Lord Black of Crossharbour.