ETS, the American firm responsible for the recent SATs marking fiasco, has now been put in charge of English language tests for immigrants. In other words, they will have the power to decide who is allowed to settle in this country under the Government's newly introduced regulations.
Quite apart from the issue of whether this discredited firm should be given any more contracts, we might ask if it makes sense for Americans to have the ultimate say on who is allowed into Britain.
Similar questions arise over the senior executives of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the ill-assorted body of academics and big businessmen who awarded the controversial marking contract to ETS in the first place.
The chairman of the QCA is Sir Anthony Greener, once in charge of the cigarette manufacturers Dunhill and a man knighted for his services to the drinks industry. They do not seem especially relevant for deciding what should be taught in our schools.
The QCA's chief executive is a man called Ken Boston, who is paid £328,000 a year after recently receiving a 15 per cent pay rise. Mr Boston is an Australian who, in addition to his generous salary, has the run of a nice flat in Chelsea and is allowed six business-class flights – costing between £3,000 and £7,000 – back to Australia every year.
It may be that there is no one in this country who could do the job as well as Boston. But we could save quite a lot of money in expenses if we hired a British citizen to take over.
Himmler was very similar ...
There is a rather desperate and disappointed air about the coverage of Radovan Karadzic's arrest in Belgrade. The difficulty from the media's point of view is that the world's most wanted war criminal does not look the part – and never really did.
What made it more difficult for the press was that Karadzic's so-called disguise as a heavily bearded old guru writing rather turgid advice for a Serbian New Age magazine did not appear to be a sham. His interest in psychotherapy and his advice to readers on how to come to terms with the problems of existence might be banal but it was all perfectly sincere.
Yet the combination of war crimes and quiet, scholarly pursuits of this kind is not all that unusual. Hitler's right-hand man, Heinrich Himmler, when not murdering or torturing his many victims, was masterminding research which, according to the late Hugh Trevor-Roper, included "such important matters as Rosicrucianism and freemasonry, the symbolism of the suppression of the harp in Ulster and the occult significance of gothic pinnacles and top hats at Eton".
And if we go further back, there are such figures as the emperor Hadrian, currently being celebrated in a huge new exhibition at the British Museum. Hadrian, I had been brought up to believe, was one of the more civilised of the Roman emperors, who, like Karadzic, wrote poetry in his spare time. It turns out, however, that he too was a big-time war criminal responsible, inter alia, for the massacre of thousands of Jews in AD133.
* Over the years I have developed the habit when watching the TV news of looking at the people in the background rather than the central figure. Thus when Max Mosley came out of the law courts on Thursday, having just won his privacy case against the News of the World, I was eyeing the phalanx of well-fed lawyers in dark suits by whom he was surrounded. No wonder they were all smiling. Not only had they just been awarded a huge sum to help them to cope with the economic downturn, but they also had seen a new area of profitable activity opening up. They looked like prospectors who had just struck gold in an unexpected place.
In recent years, the rich pickings that were once to be had from libel have been drying up. That was partly for the reason that, in today's lax climate, public figures are no longer greatly damaged by what is written about them in the press. Even cabinet ministers forced to resign can expect to be taken back into the fold after a few months.
And the fact that Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken were sent to prison as a result of what they said in libel actions acts as a deterrent to others seeking damages.
Goodbye libel. And hello privacy. Thanks to men like Mr Justice Eady, who awarded Max Mosley £60,000 for the violation of his right to privacy, there are new opportunities to wealth creation in a different field. And not just for the lawyers. Jeffrey Archer must be kicking himself that it has all come too late for him. He could have sued for breach of privacy. He wouldn't have had to tell lies. He would never have ended up in the nick. And he might even have been given £60,000.Reuse content