Richard Ingrams' Week: Public schools are right to be wary of Brown's resentment

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The Independent Online

The public schools are probably right to get the wind up about government plans to challenge their charity status with the possible effect of forcing up their fees and eventually causing them to close down.

Gordon Brown has prudently discarded all the Old Labour convictions of his radical youth. In common with any backbench Tory, he now favours privatisation, nuclear missiles and anti-trade union legislation.

Yet there remains one considerable Old Labour chip on the Brown shoulder in the shape of a profound resentment of any form of privilege in the field of education. It first came into the open some years ago when Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, launched a fierce attack on the exclusiveness of Oxbridge, instancing the case of a Newcastle girl called Laura Spence who, he claimed, had been refused admission to Magdalen College, Oxford because she came from a state school. It was an unlikely story and one which was eventually shown to be quite untrue.

The interesting thing about the affair was not so much Brown's initial outburst but his subsequent refusal to admit that he had made a mistake or to apologise to the college authorities. I remember the story because it was the first intimation I had that Brown was hampered by serious character defects.

Playing dirty to protect security secrets

The best reason for not giving the police and the security services more powers is that they can't be trusted with the ones they have already got. The police may have had their successes recently in combating terrorism but there have been too many disasters and cock-ups along the way to give the public much confidence in their overall ability.

More than that, there is plenty of evidence that MI5, for all its new-found "openness", has yet to rid itself of its old shady ways. Some of us remember only too well the dirty tricks and smear tactics of yesteryear – the efforts, for example, to show that Harold Wilson's government was linked to the IRA.

Then there was the rumour mill which was used to try to discredit politicians who were thought to be too left-wing (ie probably paid-up members of the Communist Party) or just too liberal and unreliable. Tony Benn was at one time the victim of an extraordinary smear campaign alleging the most bizarre sexual activities. And the same sort of thing happened later to Tory Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, about whom the most lurid rumours were circulated. In neither case was any concrete evidence ever produced.

With such episodes in mind, I have been following with interest the recent press publicity about Admiral Sir Alan West, recently brought into the Government by Gordon Brown to take charge of security. A few weeks ago there was a lengthy expose of the admiral in the Mail on Sunday which attempted to link him, rather unsuccessfully, with a one-time Swedish pop singer. This week the Daily Telegraph ran a story about his son, a journalist, suggesting he had a history of drug taking.

It would not be at all surprising if the secret services resented an outsider like Admiral West being brought in to oversee their activities. And it would not be surprising – at least to me – if they resorted to the old dirty-tricks routine to get rid of him.

* It cannot be long before Andrew Morton, author of the famous book Diana: Her True Story, which first revealed the Charles and Diana bust-up, will be giving evidence at that marathon inquest at the High Court.

I make that assumption on the grounds that anyone with any connection to Diana is sooner or later going to be given a hearing before Lord Justice Scott Baker.

Given the wide remit of the inquest, it is possible that Mr Morton could be questioned about his new book about the Scientologists, which makes the startling claim that the daughter of Hollywood actor Tom Cruise, above, was conceived with the frozen sperm of the movement's founder, the late L Ron Hubbard, notorious conman. Cruise's lawyer denies the claim.

Unfortunately for all of us, Mr Morton's book will not be published in this country, thanks to our famous libel laws. Publishers, not the most courageous body of men, live in fear of libel writs.

In the case of the Scientologists, they may have a point as, in common with similar cults like the Moonies, they have a long history of harrying their critics and suing disrespectful journalists.

It is a trait which, incidentally, they share with Mohamed al-Fayed, a man who repeatedly calls the Duke of Edinburgh a murderer but when himself attacked runs blubbing to his lawyers.