Richard Ingrams' Week: Hungry for news? Have old, cold potatoes instead

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The Independent Online

On Wednesday I joined the large congregation at Nigel Dempster's memorial service and listened to the moving tribute paid him by the Daily Mail's editor, Mr Paul Dacre.

To his credit, Dacre made no attempt to gloss over Nigel's dark side. But he did not go so far as to quote the Mail's late proprietor, the third Lord Rothermere, on the Dempster diary, which he once described as "old, cold fried potatoes".

Meanwhile the Daily Mail continues, quite cynically, to headline the stories coming out of the Diana inquest as if they were new. But if ever there were old, cold fried potatoes, these are they.

"Diana and a blinding flash" was one of the big headlines this week above the shock-horror story of how Frenchman François Levistre had seen just such a flash in the Alma tunnel before the fatal crash. M. Levistre will be recalled by the 12 million or so people who watched the infamous ITV film Diana: Secrets of the Crash in 1998. After he gave his dramatic account of the blinding flash, he was later revealed as a notorious conman. Imprisoned in 1989 for theft, burglary and forgery, he was subsequently exposed in the French press trying to sell a baby to a German couple for 50,000 francs. Two months after his appearance on ITV, Levistre told a completely different Diana story to The People newspaper, now claiming to have personally caused the crash when speeding through the tunnel and making the Fayed Mercedes swerve and crash into the pillar. No wonder M. Levistre had been described in French police records as a mythomane (or pathological liar).

There is nothing new about any of this, all of which can be found in Martyn Gregory's book Diana: The Last Days. The Daily Mail knows the story along with the rest of us. But in the desperate hope of gaining sales by heating up the old potatoes, it is prepared to headline the flash story as though it were some kind of scoop, as though the conspiracy theories of that other fantasist Mohamed al-Fayed might have some validity after all.

Over-the-top behaviour

The American neocons who urged George Bush to invade Iraq were fond of comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler and those who opposed the invasion to Neville Chamberlain. Such comparisons have become almost a political cliché. George Bush himself was once compared to Chamberlain by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

So it was not all that remarkable that a Labour MP should compare the new Foreign Secretary David Miliband to Chamberlain when accusing him of giving in to the demands of fellow Europeans over the controversial new treaty. Miliband, however, took great exception to the comparison, declaring that "I feel this particularly personally". The MPs on the committee were being led to understand that, being Jewish, he found the remarks especially insulting. He therefore demanded an apology.

Unless, like Tony Blair, Miliband believes that the reason we went to war with Hitler was to stop him persecuting the Jews, there is no logical reason for him to think this way. Chamberlain gave in to Hitler's demands simply as a means of securing peace in our time. It may be over the top to accuse Gordon Brown and Miliband of behaving in the same way but there is nothing racist or offensive about it.

All Miliband has done is to announce to the world that he is Jewish – and no doubt the Arabs have taken note and reached inevitable and mistaken conclusions.

* My friend Richard Boston was once asked if he considered Kingsley Amis to be a major poet. "Yes," he replied to the surprise of his audience. "He writes the kind of poems a major would write."

Along with his son Martin, Amis has been under attack from the Marxist professor Terry Eagleton, accused of homophobia, anti-Semitism and all manner of crimes. But all it really amounts to is that, like a lot of people as they grow older, Amis became more and more reactionary in his views – even becoming more than a little bonkers towards the end. I remember in particular how he accused one of his oldest friends, Mavis Nicholson, of being a KGB agent.

Perhaps this tendency to become right-wing and barmy with advancing years is caused by some genetic defect, as young Martin, left, seems to be going the same way as his dad. In answer to the professor's attack, he has been sounding off about Muslims in terms not unlike those of a London cabbie.

Martin Amis may be a brilliant novelist, for all I know. But I never numbered him among the ranks of the supremely intelligent. He is old enough to have lived through those long years when Irishmen committed acts of terrorism on a huge scale not only against fellow Irishmen but also innocent Englishmen and women.

Many of these people would have called themselves Christians, but their motive was primarily a political one. Only a dimwit could advance the notion that Muslims have some kind of monopoly when it comes to terror.

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