Saturday 15 March 2008
Richard Ingrams' Week: No wonder there is little pride and patriotism left
The former attorney general Lord Goldsmith is famous for one thing. In December 2002 he was asked by Tony Blair to adjudicate on whether the imminent invasion of Iraq would be legal under international law. Goldsmith's response was that it would be legal only in the event of a second UN resolution. But a few weeks later in March 2003 Goldsmith changed his mind and gave his approval to the imminent invasion. The reasons for the change have never been officially explained. But people are entitled to assume, despite his many protestations to the contrary, that he was leant on by Blair and meekly gave way.
That, you might have thought, would be the last we would hear of Goldsmith. Discredited and humiliated, he would retire to his barristers' chambers and spend the rest of his life dealing with boring but lucrative briefs involving human rights legislation. But no. We live in a world in which nothing succeeds like failure. Goldsmith's superior, Tony Blair, a discredited figure if ever there was, is showered with money and job offers and hopes even to be appointed the first-ever president of Europe.
Goldsmith's rehabilitation has been less colourful. He has been given the job of encouraging us all, but in particular the young, to celebrate our British citizenship and feel a new sense of "national pride". With this aim, he called this week for new ceremonies in schools where children would swear their allegiance to the Queen. He also proposed a new holiday to celebrate what he called "the bond of shared citizenship".
It does not begin to occur to him that the major reason for the decline in national pride is the shameful and disastrous alliance of this country with George Bush and all the misery and death that have ensued, not to mention all the accompanying lies and deceit which were used to justify the attack in which Goldsmith himself played a prominent part. When men like Goldsmith start to talk of national pride we should just remember Dr Johnson's view that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel".
Revenge from beyond the grave
The authorised biography of Bill Deedes, who died last year aged 94, has been splashed all over the pages of his old newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which is not to be wondered at. Even when he was alive, the paper was delighted to have Bill as a still-working journalist, as it helped to reassure older readers that some things hadn't changed despite all the innovations introduced by Conrad Black (now in prison) and his successors the reclusive Barclay brothers. Lengthy extracts from the biography will help to keep the legend alive.
In public Bill Deedes remained loyal to the new owners. Yet all the time, as Stephen Robinson's admirable biography makes clear, his last days on earth were being made miserable by what was happening to the paper he had faithfully served for so many years. Aware of his disquiet, the Barclay brothers invited Bill to lunch at the Ritz, but rather spoiled the point of the exercise by not offering the distinguished guest a single drop of alcoholic refreshment.
Bill has had his revenge from beyond the grave by leaving behind a caustic memo berating the Barclays for what he considered to be their pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all else and the consequent sacking of long-serving journalists abruptly shown the door and scarcely given time to clear their desks. "The depressing feature of this exercise," he wrote, "was its impersonal character. Existing staff felt like pawns moved by an invisible hand." In conversation with his biographer, Bill described the new owners as "a stinking mob". It goes without saying that the stinking mob in question has not included the relevant passages in its serialisation of Robinson's book.
* A new approach to crime is apparently being pioneered by the Serious Fraud Office. If there appears to have been a serious fraud, don't bother about it if it looks as if it's an open and shut case.
This has been the response to the scandal of GMTV exposed last year for cheating viewers of £35m by encouraging them to enter competitions in which the winners had already been decided.
But the SFO refused to investigate the case on the grounds it is not sufficiently complex and is unworthy of its "expertise". Expertise is not a word that many people would associate with the SFO, which has been involved in any number of lengthy and expensive investigations which have fizzled out or ended in a courtroom stalemate.
In the circumstances you might think that they would welcome a case involving £35m where, I feel, they would be almost certain to secure a conviction and hopefully a heap of favourable publicity.
But the news will be welcomed by Britain's fraudsters, the apparent message being that so long as your fraud consists of ripping people off in an open and straightforward manner, you have a good chance of avoiding prosecution.
It will also be welcomed by Michael Grade, the flamboyant head of ITV, as his company, too, has been shown to have operated a similar scam on its Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway programme, pictured above, again involving millions of pounds. The case looks open and shut and Grade can therefore be fairly certain that the police will not come knocking at his door.
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