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Richard Ingrams

Richard Ingrams: The country 'set' that makes a spiv of Cameron


The news that the stately Thameside mansion Cliveden is up for sale has revived memories not only of the Profumo affair – it was at the Cliveden swimming pool that Profumo first set eyes on the shapely Christine Keeler – but also of the infamous "Cliveden Set", a group of Establishment figures who were thought to regularly meet there to discuss the cause of appeasement during the 1930s.

The notion of a "Cliveden Set" was first floated by Claud Cockburn, father of The Independent's Patrick, and has since become part of history. But there was never a set in any form of sense. It was just a brilliant piece of propaganda by a brilliant journalist.

I'm not sure who coined the expression the "Chipping Norton Set" but I suspect it was none other than my colleague Stephen Glover. But that, too, has caught the public imagination. It conjures up a group of rich people with country houses in or around the Oxfordshire town, a group that includes the PR man Matthew Freud (married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth), Rebekah Brooks and her racehorse trainer husband, and of course David Cameron and his wife, Samantha. Jeremy Clarkson is sometimes mentioned playing a walk-on part. All in all they could be members of the cast of an episode of Midsomer Murders.

Cameron is already damaged by his patronage of Andy Coulson. But his membership of the "Chipping Norton Set" is equally damaging to his image – suggesting that far from being a gent of the old school, he is actually a bit of a spiv.

So what dare we hope for from Ofcom?

There is not much to be said in favour of Ofcom, the so-called regulator which has to decide whether Rupert Murdoch's bid for total control of BSkyB can be given the green light – whether in the words of their brief he is "fit and proper" to gain overall ownership.

David Cameron previously promised to do away with Ofcom, vowing that it would "cease to exist as we know it". But, perhaps conveniently for him, it has survived, and if necessary can take the blame for any decisions about BSkyB which might turn out to be unpopular with the electorate.

Ofcom is a quango of highly-paid grey men headed by a former New Labour groupie, one Ed Richards, who receives a salary of more than £300,000. Few people will have heard of him, and under his leadership Ofcom has done little to reverse the dramatic decline in the quality of television programmes.

When it comes to deciding whether Murdoch is "fit and proper", Ofcom is in a difficult position as only last year they approved Mr Richard Desmond, a man who has made a fortune out of pornography, as the new controller of Channel 5.

If Desmond is deemed to be fit and proper, can Ofcom turn down Murdoch – a man who, in comparison, seems almost respectable?

Hackers can't tear us apart from our mobiles

During the long summer weeks to come, you can expect continuing discussion of the impact of the phone-hacking scandal on the press, on the police, on politicians, or perhaps on all three.

Not likely to be mentioned at all is the impact on the mobile-phone industry. Yet what has emerged, if you didn't know it already, is that using a mobile is a very risky business. You may have realised, because so many journalists have now admitted it, that it is the easiest thing in the world to hack into someone's mobile phone. But it was news to me that the hacker can not only listen to your messages, but delete some of those that have already been recorded, as happened in the case of murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler.

All kinds of proposals are being put forward to go after the people who do this kind of thing. A simpler solution for those who may feel vulnerable is not to use a mobile at all. But most people would now regard such a suggestion as preposterous, even unimaginable. A mobile has become as essential to their wellbeing as eyes or ears. So long as that remains the case, the mobile-phone industry has little to fear from the hacking scandal or for that matter, the regular reports of health risks.