Richard Ingrams' Week: Proof again that Boris is a poor judge of character

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The Independent Online

Anyone with experience of the Church of England will know how difficult it is to get rid of a rogue vicar. When I looked into the matter some time ago, the principle seemed to be that he had either to preach heresy or be drunk in the pulpit to merit expulsion.

Therefore, when the Bishop of Chelmsford tells us that he barred Boris Johnson's deputy and former clergyman Ray Lewis following allegations of sexual and financial misconduct, it's clear he believed that he had very good grounds indeed for taking that step. This is especially true since Ray Lewis is black, and the church authorities would have been sensitive to any possible charge of race discrimination.

Lewis, who quit yesterday, claims he knew nothing of the church's decision to bar him, suggesting that the bishop had decided out of the kindness of his heart not to tell him that he had been sacked. Boris Johnson, who was told in writing two months ago of his deputy's past but did nothing about it, insisted that he had full confidence in Lewis.

The story, suggesting that Boris is no judge of character, is reminiscent of his appointment as editor of The Spectator in 1999. He was advised then by many fellow journalists to dismiss the magazine's controversial columnist Taki. A rich Greek playboy, the friend and admirer of the murderer Lord Lucan, Taki had caused offence with a number of openly racist comments in his column. Boris took no notice, kept Taki on and is therefore still open to the charge of having published highly offensive material when the editor of a supposedly respectable magazine.

Spot the elephant behind Amy's hair

"The News" is no longer the news – just a ragbag of stories, mostly about celebrities, rapes and stabbings, or turtles being rescued by the RSPCA. Nowadays, you have to look at the business pages to find out what's going on in the world.

It is a far cry from Andy Murray or Amy Winehouse. Here, you will read of businesses threatened with bankruptcy, food prices soaring and the price of oil forever rocketing up.

And, if you read carefully, you may even discover why such alarming things are happening. It is claimed, for example, by many of those business page experts that the main reason for the oil price rise – the most important factor in the current economic crisis – is the fear that Israel may be about to launch an attack on Iran's nuclear installations.

Such an attack, they tell us, could well lead to war in the Middle East, which is already at boiling point in a number of key areas. However, this is a possibility which, it appears, is only of concern to oil men and the business news. I see no evidence that politicians, either here or in America, are particularly worried by events. While the Foreign Secretary and others make threatening speeches about Mr Mugabe, no one has yet to warn the Israeli government to refrain from an attack, or else. The impression you get is that the Americans are not overly concerned about a possible threat of war.

Perhaps, after all, the business pages and the oil men have got it wrong. But I doubt it. As so often where Israel is concerned, there is simply an embarrassed silence. The elephant is in the room, but the talk is all of Amy Winehouse and Wimbledon and what is to be done about all that shocking knife crime.

* We are celebrating this year the 100th anniversary of the publication of Kenneth Grahame's famous book, The Wind in the Willows. Grahame is rightly honoured for his long-lasting fantasy and particularly for his most famous creation, Mr Toad, to whom so many contemporary characters such as, for example, Lord Archer, have been compared.

Grahame, however, may be held responsible for the mistaken affection in which another of his characters is held, namely Badger. In his book, Badger is a curmudgeonly but kindly old character whom the other animals look up to with respect and admiration.

Such is the powerful influence of The Wind in the Willows even after 100 years that this picture of the badger is widely accepted and may help to explain this week's decision by the Government not to go ahead with any cull of badgers, which farmers have consistently blamed for the growing problem of TB in cattle.

Certainly, there is great sensitivity in official circles to what is thought to be the affection in which the badger is held by the great British public – something which, on the face of things, is rather odd considering that badgers are nocturnal creatures which are very seldom seen by anyone.

And, contrary to Kenneth Grahame's characterisation, badgers are not at all nice and cosy creatures, being generally vicious and extremely smelly.

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