Richard Ingrams' Week: Blair's Babes were hardly battleaxes – more's the pity

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The Independent Online

Pictures of Spain's Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero surrounded by members of his 90 per cent female cabinet call to mind similar pictures of Tony Blair surrounded by his newly elected female MPs, the so-called Blair Babes.

Like Señor Zapatero, Blair wanted us to think that he was being modern, inclusive and what-have-you by bringing more and more women into the governing process.

The real reason, I suspect, was a feeling that women were less likely to make trouble for him. The history of the Blair Babes seems to bear this out. Their impact has been minimal and the number of casualties high, but they didn't rock the boat. When the veteran Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody died some days ago, she was generally described in the press as a battleaxe, which she was.

And the same was true of the small band of women who have made a success in politics, notably the greatest battleaxe of them all, Margaret Thatcher. Barbara Castle was a battleaxe, as is Ann Widdecombe, who, sadly, has announced that she won't be seeking re-election as an MP.

Widdecombe always stood out against all-women shortlists, insisting, quite rightly, that any woman who goes into politics should have to compete on equal terms with men, as she herself had done.

But her feelings will not be reciprocated by David Cameron, who is attracted by the idea of shortlists. Like Blair and Zapatero, he would like to have his own Dave's Babes, whom he would no doubt hope to beguile with his suave, Old Etonian charm.

Public spats over private lives

Privacy law is making rapid advances, and the latest person to try his hand at it is Mr Max Mosley, president of the FIA and recently exposed by the News of the World taking part in some kind of sadomasochistic orgy with a group of prostitutes.

Mosley has already embarked on litigation, not for libel, but for invasion of privacy. His case is that what he gets up to in his leisure hours, however distasteful some people may find it, is his own concern and that the public has no right to be informed about such intimate matters.

This kind of plea, where the great and the good are concerned, is being listened to with increasing sympathy by Her Majesty's judges. Relying on the European Convention of Human Rights, judges have been more than keen to assist those like, for example, the well-known sportsman who was having an affair with another man's wife, but who could not be named by the press after the judge ruled in his favour.

There are enough precedents now for a man like Mosley to mount a case against the News of the World. But his name may not help him.

He cannot stop the papers from continually referring to his father, the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, who, incidentally, was, like him, a notorious sexual athlete. In his recently published memoir, Ferdinand Mount claims that Sir Oswald seduced, among others, both of his sisters-in-law, while my friend the Irish writer Ulick O'Connor recalls in his diary how he was once summoned to Leixlip Castle, Co Kildare, at 2am by its worried chatelaine, Mariga Guinness, to protect her from the assaults of her lascivious stepfather, Sir Oswald.

* I was privileged to "say a few words" at the opening of an exhibition of Pont's cartoons at London's Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street on Tuesday. The exhibition celebrates the centenary of Pont's birth in 1908. His real name was Graham Laidler and he was only 32 when he died in 1940. Pont trained as an architect, but took up full-time cartooning after being diagnosed with TB.

Looking again at his drawings, I am surprised by how little they have dated. Pont specialised in portraying the English and, especially, the male of the species – pompous, tongue-tied, insisting on bacon and eggs in a French hotel, opening all the windows on the train and falling asleep at concerts. These men and their put-upon wives are still with us.

Pont is also remembered for his cartoons from 1940 in which he chronicles the phlegmatic response of the civilians to the threat of German invasion. A member lounges with a book in the armchair of his club on which a bomb has just fallen, causing a huge crater just behind him. "I'm perfectly aware of that," he tells a waiter with an air of total nonchalance.

Pont was one of the few great things to come out of Punch and his jokes have proved more resilient than that journal, which sank without trace a few years ago. By a strange of twist of fate, its final owner was Mohamed al-Fayed, who, despite closing down the magazine, retained the copyright on all the old cartoons (including Pont's), thus showing that, for all his apparent lunacy, he remains a shrewd operator when it comes to business.

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