Saturday 26 January 2008
Richard Ingrams' Week: Ken's curious friendship with top brass at the Yard
The sight of thousands of police marching through the streets of London in funny white hats in support of their pay claim had a dramatic effect on MPs.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, immediately adopted a more conciliatory approach to their demands, while MPs of all parties began to register doubts about their own extravagant pay claims. It wouldn't look good, would it, if they gave themselves a big rise while simultaneously giving coppers the thumbs down?
Politicians have always been reluctant to antagonise police officers, which partly explains the poor state of the force today. The reason is that many MPs are scared of the police and the information they may have in their files. For it is a well-known fact that the police supply newspapers with stories in exchange for large sums of money.
One of the more curious alliances of modern times is that between "Red" Ken Livingstone and the head of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Ian Blair. There was a general call from people of all parties for Sir Ian to resign following the full revelations about the shooting of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station.
Even the shadow Home Secretary David Davis joined the chorus calling for Blair to go.
But what of Red Ken, the friend of Muslim extremists, of Gerry Adams and Hugo Chavez? To the surprise of many on the left-wing, Mr Livingstone gave his 100 per cent support to the beleaguered commissioner, urging him to defy the protests and stay at his post. With the knives now out and allegations of corruption being levelled against some of his aides, the London mayor must feel grateful that, whatever happens, he has a good friend at Scotland Yard.
The murky world of political money
A debate has been simmering about the ethics of the so-called sex industry, or what used to be called prostitution. Is it right, the feminists ask, that women who sell sex should be deemed guilty of an offence, whereas their male customers are let off scot-free?
Much the same kind of argument could be applied to the question of political donations, which are in the news again with the resignation this week of the Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain. The spotlight focuses on Mr Hain and the fact he failed to declare more than £100,000 of donations to his Labour deputy leadership campaign.
But far more interesting, if little written about, is the motivation of the business people who gave him that money. Who are they and why should they be prepared to give thousands of pounds to a B-list politician to help him get a non-job? In the light of the Blair honours scandal, it is unlikely that they were hoping to secure peerages – until recently the commonest ambition of those giving large sums to political parties.
One of Hain's benefactors was an 82-year-old diamond broker called Willie Nagel who had previously given money to the Conservatives. Another was a South African businessman, Isaac Kaye, a keen supporter of the pro-apartheid National Party, a fact that did not stop Mr Hain, famous for his anti-apartheid campaigning in the 1970s, from taking his money. Neither of these men would seem to have any special loyalty to the Labour Party.
So what did they hope to gain from their donations? We are unlikely to get an answer. As with the clients of prostitutes, they are not thought to be guilty of any offence and can simply walk away.
* From the cover of almost every book in the windows of Waterstone's shines out the smiling face of the BBC Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Or if not of him, then of his sidekick Richard Hammond. But if I were Clarkson I might be thinking hard about my next career move. Because very soon, "car" is going to be as dirty a word as cigarette or beefburger. It is happening already, as more and more people accept the reality of global warming and the key role played in that dangerous process by the motor car.
Cigarette advertising is banned on television and the same thing is happening to junk food commercials on children's programmes. There are currently no restrictions on advertising for cars – but how long will that last?
The BBC is as concerned about global warming as the rest of us. It even tried recently to devote a whole day's schedule to a campaign about the issue before reluctantly abandoning the idea.
So how can it defend the idea of spending huge sums on Clarkson's programme, which glorifies the car? And not just any old bangers but the fastest, the noisiest, the most dangerous varieties of car that can legitimately be put on the roads.
It is all done with typically laddish flair by Clarkson and his pals, and has been so successful that Five has launched its own rival and almost identical version.
But the anti-car movement is gathering strength, and Clarkson's days as the BBC's glorified car salesman are numbered. He should think about an alternative employment – as a London cabbie, perhaps.
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