Richard Ingrams: Politicians need to choose their advisers wisely

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The Independent Online

In the 1970s we had the Poulson affair. Now, with a change of only one letter, we have the Coulson affair.

Both events involve senior Tory politicians: in the first case, the party's deputy leader and home secretary Reginald Maudling, and in the second the Prime Minister David Cameron.

Maudling could well have been the prime minister. A clever and very popular politician, he stood in the first ever election for the Tory leadership but was beaten by Edward Heath. Like many politicians, he was a greedy man, especially when it came to money, and became involved with two criminal businessmen, one of them the corrupt architect John Poulson. He was eventually forced to resign.

Cameron will do no such thing. He is determined to retain the services of his press adviser Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World. But the scandal, which involves not only Cameron but also Rupert Murdoch and the Metropolitan Police, will rumble on, threatening to tarnish the Tory leader's carefully cultivated gentleman-of-the-old-school image.

It is in keeping with this image for Cameron to be seen to stick by his loyal henchman, insisting like a bishop with a wayward priest that he deserves to be given a second chance. But is that all there is to it?

Coulson didn't get where he is today without amassing a huge amount of inside information about public figures. He could well cause trouble if once sent outside the tent. For the same reason, Cameron, like all politicians, will be most reluctant to do anything to upset the police. Like Coulson, they know where a lot of bodies are buried and they to need to be kept well inside the tent.

Memories of Odds and Sods

I had lost touch with the Irish-born journalist Donald Carroll, who has died in France aged 70. Years ago he contributed a scandalous gossip column about showbiz to Private Eye headed Odds and Sods.

It resulted in more than one libel action, the most memorable being brought by Kenneth Tynan, the theatre critic and dramaturge at Laurence Olivier's newly launched National Theatre.

Donald had described how Tynan had removed his trousers in a restaurant in front of a 12-year-old girl. Tynan, who always hated Private Eye, sued on the grounds that he had been accused of indecency with a minor. But then, having vowed vengeance against the magazine, Tynan abruptly dropped the action and settled for an apology and a token sum of damages.

Later, after his death and the publication of his diaries, I discovered the reason for this unexpected climbdown. Unbeknown to me, he had been a compulsive spanker of women and had even kept a diary recording all the details of his exploits. Shortly after he launched his libel action, the diary went missing. Tynan convinced himself that I had masterminded the theft, and was fearful that when the case came to court the diary would be read out to discredit him. It was very flattering to be credited with so much malign influence.

Train companies have a happy new year

It was not the best of starts to the year. On a cold and frosty morning, my train fare had gone up by 7 per cent, the ticket office was closed, and when the train eventually materialised it "terminated" prematurely 15 minutes later in Reading "due to a technical failure". It made one once again sceptical of the claims which the railway companies always make at this time of the year: that higher fares will help to provide a better service for commuters.

No such claim can logically be made by the giant car parking companies like Apcoa when all they do is to provide a narrow strip of waterlogged ground on which to park your car. Apcoa also jacked up its fares this week, for the second time in a year. Such companies appear to be a law unto themselves. They introduce pay increases at will and impose massive fines on anyone who fails to buy a ticket, as well as paying the DVLA to provide information on the owners of offending vehicles.

When people calculate the rising cost of train travel, they ought to take into account this car-park racket as it's all part of the same package.

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