Richard Ingrams' Week: Much is revealed when the jackets come off

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The Independent Online

On the way to my London workplace I regularly pass one of those trendy modern office buildings that has a boardroom at street level, with only a sheet of glass between the people inside and those like me passing by on the street.

You can stop and look in and watch a group of men sitting at a table with flip charts and laptops. You can imagine the talk turning to low-hanging fruit and ticking all the right boxes. The noticeable thing about these men, mostly in their 20s or 30s, is that they are all in their shirtsleeves.

And this is something I notice about young David Miliband. Seated in the Radio 2 studio, as he was this week, he too is in his shirtsleeves. Walking along Downing Street on the way to a cabinet meeting he may have his jacket casually draped over his shoulders. It is a habit he has copied from his friend and mentor Tony Blair, whose speeches, full of meaningless verbiage, he used to write.

Blair always made a point of being filmed with his jacket off, particularly if he was with a group of men who were keeping theirs on. The idea was to show the public not just that he was taking his jacket off and getting down to business, but also to demonstrate his youth and overall fitness in comparison with others.

Unfortunately for Blair, the image of vibrant health was irrevocably shattered when one day an eagle-eyed photographer noticed a tiny segment of vest protruding from under the shirtsleeves.

A lot of hot air and humbug

Along with everyone else I have been reading for weeks about the rocketing price of heating. Even so, it came as a bit of a shock when last week the bill for filling up my tank with heating oil came to more than £1,000.

The response of Mr Jake Ulrich, the head of Centrica, owners of British Gas, is to tell those hit by fuel bills like this to use less of it and wear two jumpers when it gets cold. Sheltered from the outside world Mr Ulrich was quite unaware of the outrage his remarks were going to cause, particularly when shortly after he made them it was revealed that he was due for a dividend of £33,600 on top of his salary of £1m.

As it happens, I can afford to pay the £1,000 heating bill and will have no reason, any more than Mr Ulrich, to get the second jumper out of the drawer.

What seems silly in my case is that, because I'm an old aged pensioner, the Government is going to pay me £200 in the form of a winter heating allowance. It is welcome but it would be an act of gross humbug on my part to pretend that I couldn't get by without it.

The Government maintains that it would be too complicated to alter the system and that it would involve introducing means tests. But as it already knows all about us, you'd think it would be quite easy for it to identify those who are in real need. It might even afford to give people a bit more than £200 now that it's going to be just a drop in the ocean.

* According to yesterday's report in The Independent by Kim Sengupta, the Iraqi government is hoping to attract tourists to the country now that the situation there is not so dangerous. It is still dangerous, of course, but not quite as dangerous as it was when it was really dangerous.

All the same, I wonder if the Iraqis are right to try to lure visitors to their historic sites such as Nineveh and Babylon, left, particularly when so many of them have been vandalised by the invading American troops.

The National Museum in Baghdad is said to be high on the list of attractions. But when we last heard about it, most of the prize exhibits had been stolen by looters and sold off to foreign collectors.

Rather than trying to persuade foreigners that things are getting back to normal, the Iraqi tourism minister might do better to sell the country as a place of real danger and appeal to those who crave a bit of excitement to liven up their otherwise humdrum lives. Such people would not be at all interested in seeing the relics of King Sennacherib (those few that haven't been smashed up or looted). Given bullet-proof vests and provided with a military escort, they could be taken on a trip to Abu Ghraib prison and shown round the bloodstained torture chambers.

Or how about an excursion to Saddam Hussein's grubby underground bunker on the banks of the Tigris where he was finally tracked down by American troops?

It could be made into a major tourist attraction. Though maybe the bunker, too, has been vandalised, along with Nineveh and Babylon, by the Americans.

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