Richard Ingrams' Week: The fine art of never admitting mistakes

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The Independent Online

We are accustomed by now to a set routine when anything goes badly wrong in this country. First of all, some kind of official inquiry is set in motion to discover what went wrong. This will take some months before any conclusions are reached.

The public is eventually informed that there has been what is nowadays called "a systemic failure". A senior figure will be detailed to give a press conference where he or she will admit that mistakes have been made but will reassure the public first and foremost that lessons have been learnt. As a result new procedures have been adopted, new guidelines put in place to make sure that the bad thing that happened won't happen again.

He or she may add as an optional extra that a line has been drawn under the bad thing and that the time has now come to move on.

What is most unlikely to happen is that any specific individuals, even in the unlikely circumstance of their being named, will be held responsible and be dismissed or asked to resign.

This familiar ritual was acted out yet again by the head of Channel 4, Mr Andy Duncan, reacting to the Ofcom report into the Big Brother disaster in January when thousands of viewers complained about the shameful depths to which the programme had sunk.

Duncan, scarcely a reassuring figure, rehearsed the familiar phrases about mistakes being made, while carefully avoiding any mention of who might have made them.

And, as is customary on such occasions, he dismissed any suggestion that he himself was to blame and ought to resign. In the meantime Big Brother will continue but with those new guidelines in place.

They need the money, if only to be able to afford Mr Duncan's £1m salary.

On and off the rails

Speaking recently on a Channel 4 programme about road transport, Mr Bob Kiley, the one-time saviour of the New York subway system, expressed his exasperation at our relaxed attitude towards trains that nine times out of 10 are late. "What amazes me is how you British put up with this," he said.

Trains aside, Mr Kiley should be rather more appreciative of the generally laid-back attitude of the British, as he himself could be said to have benefited in no small measure from our tradition of general apathy.

Hired by Ken Livingstone to do for London what he did for New York, ie make the Underground trains run on time, Kiley eventually stepped down last year as head of Transport for London. But Ken continued to pay him £3,200 per day for doing - as Kiley himself admitted - very little. And apart from the money he continues to live in a nice grace-and-favour house in Belgravia at the ratepayers' expense. With so little to do and so much time to do it in, it was scarcely surprising when Kiley developed a drink problem. "Things have got worse," he said in an interview with the London Evening Standard, "now that I'm not exactly overworked."

According to Ken, Kiley gets paid only for the days he puts in an invoice for, and now that he is attempting to deal with his alcoholism he is not getting paid at all.

Whatever the truth, Kiley ought to be grateful for the fact that nobody seems to mind very much about this. And as for the Tube travellers, they probably note little improvement since Kiley was brought in and probably never expected to anyway. That's the British way of life for you.

One of my greatest pleasures these days is to burn large quantities of newspapers on a bonfire. There is something uniquely satisfying about seeing all those headlines, the scandals and the mindless features of yesterday - not forgetting those many unread weekend supplements - going up in smoke.

There will be plenty more bonfires once Mr Miliband introduces his plans to penalise people who throw away too much rubbish in their wheelie bins. But it is worth noting that like many of the measures introduced by the new-look Labour Party, this one is going to hit poor people hardest.

I am one of the lucky few with a big garden and plenty of space to have a bonfire of old newspapers. If you live on the 17th floor of a block of flats you won't have that advantage.

I also have in my house a wood-burning stove, ideal for disposing of junk mail and all that surplus packaging that supermarkets like to sell their products in.

Mr Miliband talks glibly about the need to compost waste food. Again, that's something that those of us with a garden have no problem with. Some of us do it already. There are, however, millions of people who don't enjoy the luxury of a garden or a compost heap. And they are the people who are going to get clobbered when all these new Miliband regulations are brought in.

But that is the type of consideration which no longer seems to occur to Labour politicians as they fight to save the planet.

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