Richard Ingrams: Today's oracle is tomorrow's forgotten writer


The late J G Farrell has been awarded the Booker Prize for his novel Troubles. It's actually the Booker Prize of 1970, a year the Booker was not awarded.

Somebody had the bright idea of going back and filling the gaps. But when the shortlist was announced recently it didn't look quite right. That was because all the names on it, including not only Farrell but also Patrick White and Muriel Spark, were well-known and highly regarded authors whose books are still in demand.

But were you to look back over the lists of previous Booker contenders you would find a great many names (perhaps the majority) which are nowadays pretty well forgotten.

There is nothing especially new about this. Long ago Dr Johnson observed that "nothing is more common than to find men whose works are now totally neglected, mentioned with praise by their contemporaries as the oracles of their age".

Last year the Booker Prize winner was Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall. It is a long book based on the life of Henry VIII's sinister henchman Thomas Cromwell. Several people I know bought that book on the strength of the Booker publicity but I have yet to meet anyone who has managed to finish it. Yet Mantel is currently hailed by the judges and the critics as the oracle of her age.

Youth and looks define the new politics

Just looking at the prospectus of the Proms anyone of my age will be aware of a sea change that has taken place. In days gone by, the soloists would have consisted of middle-aged or old men. Today almost all of them are glamorous young women.

Apart from the glamour factor, much the same is true of modern politics. Think of men like Wilson or Callaghan and then look at the main contenders for the Labour leadership – the Milibands, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham. They all look much the same – fresh faced, eager, smiling young men just like Clegg and Cameron. Asked to nominate my own preferred choice for the Labour leadership, I think I would nominate Alistair Darling. From what I have read and heard of him he seems decent, sensible, remarkably (for a politician) honest and a man who performed extremely well as Chancellor of the Exchequer at a very difficult time. Not only that, Darling stood up to Gordon Brown when he seemed determined to give his job to the greatly inferior Balls.

Darling, however, has now retired to the backbenches. Even if he wanted to lead the Labour Party he knows that he wouldn't stand the faintest chance of being elected.

It is not just a question of age (Darling is 56); he doesn't look right and nowadays you need not only to be young but to look good on telly as well. This is the nature of the new politics and it is much more damaging than the voting system.

Not everyone wants us to host the World Cup

Lord Triesman, who has been forced to resign as chairman of the FA following some indiscreet remarks he made to a woman he had befriended, deserves a certain amount of sympathy. All the same he has only himself to blame for taking the FA job in the first place – an office which his previous experience at the Institute of Psychiatry or in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills would have been of little assistance to him. It is said that by his controversial remarks alleging widespread corruption in foreign football, Triesman has damaged Britain's chances of hosting the World Cup in 2018.

For the football-loving fraternity that may be considered an unforgivable offence for which no penalty could be too severe. But for many people, myself included, Triesman could be rated a bit of a national hero if, albeit inadvertently, he has made it less likely that this country would in 2018 be invaded by hordes of football fans from all over the world with the accompanying excesses of drinking, hooliganism, raucous singing – all the unpleasantness that goes with the "beautiful game", not to mention the sheer boredom of it all.

Besides which it is quite possible that everything Triesman said about corruption in world football is perfectly true. Are we then supposed to keep quiet about that in case they all decided to go elsewhere?