Richard Ingrams' Week: He may be troubled, but Al Fayed is far from mad

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The Independent Online

"Troubled" is the latest word to be used to describe the motley collection of deadbeats and drug addicts who comprise today's celebrities. Paul Gascoigne is a troubled former footballer. Amy Winehouse is a troubled singer. I was only surprised not to see Mohamed Al Fayed described as troubled Harrods supremo.

Troubled he may well be, yet the general view, expressed by several observers of his latest outburst in court, is that he is mad.

During many years spent dealing with defamatory journalism, I was always rather surprised that while you could get into trouble calling people all kinds of rude names, it was generally quite safe to describe somebody as a loony, nutcase or madman. The lawyers categorised this as what they called "vulgar abuse".

The late Enoch Powell was often described as mad by his critics. Margaret Thatcher in the final years of her premiership was thought to be off her rocker. I believe it was Matthew Parris who first expressed in print his opinion that Tony Blair was mad. This was when he made that messianic speech at the Labour Party conference in which he spoke about his mission to bring peace to the world and an end to poverty in Africa.

Subsequently, during the long drawn-out drama of the Iraq war, it was a common occurrence for commentators to suggest that Blair was deranged. Presumably those people would maintain that he still is.

In the case of Mohamed Al Fayed, I cannot go along with this week's Observer. Fayed may like us to think that he is mad. But personally I think he knows exactly what he is doing. You can call him all kinds of rude names, but loony is not one of them.

Of marginal importance

It is comforting to know that there is at least one person in the Foreign Office who has some knowledge of recent history. We know this thanks to the revelation this week that in the original draft of the Government's famous Iraq dossier, an anonymous official had queried the statement in the dossier that no other country had ever attacked two of its neighbours in succession. Germany? he wrote in the margin.

It was when this same person sought to bring Israel into the argument that trouble arose. The dossier's official writer, a former Sunday Mirror journalist, had stated that no other country apart from Iraq had flouted the United Nations authority so brazenly in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. The unnamed amateur historian had likewise queried this statement, referring to Israel's vast nuclear arsenal, the existence of which it has always denied, and its active chemical and biological weapons programmes. (As for the UN, Israel has notoriously ignored the famous resolution 242 calling for withdrawal from all the territories captured in the 1967 war).

It seems that the mere existence of this marginal note was thought to be so provocative that the Foreign Office successfully insisted that if it was published it could seriously damage our relationship with Israel and jeopardise all our efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East. The protest was successful and the note was excluded from the published version of the draft. Unfortunately for the Foreign Office, the story has been leaked to the press and the existence of the provocative comment revealed.

We must now stand by for a major international incident and possibly breaking-off of diplomatic relations by Israel.

* There seems to have been general disappointment among journalists when Boris Johnson gave a press conference this week.

Those hoping for a bravura performance with plenty of gags and gaps felt sadly let down. Boris has adopted a new serious and, he hopes, vote-winning image. He has even had a haircut. As for jokes, the only one on offer was a reference to "Ken Leaving Soon".

This is a risky tactic he has adopted. Because if Boris had a following it was thanks to his performance as a straw-haired character who had strayed out of P G Wodehouse, a comedy clown constantly putting his foot in it and getting into all kinds of unseemly scrapes. We know it was all a bit of an act. But as acts go it wasn't at all a bad one. And there were plenty of people who were prepared to say that in the drab modern world where politicians were mostly colourless clones, Boris provided a welcome touch of glamour and excitement.

But what happens when Boris dons a dark three-piece suit, has his hair cut off and casts aside his jester's cap and bells? He then becomes just another politician like all those clones making pompous speeches about the rising crime figures and the need for more bobbies on the beat.

It is bound to lead to disappointment not only with the press corps but with the voters as well. So my hunch would be that Red Ken may not after all be leaving as soon as Boris might hope.