Richard Ingrams' Week: There is nothing like a double-barrelled dame

Click to follow
The Independent Online

"Greg's stock in Whitehall is very low." With this damning verdict, included in confidential BBC minutes made public yesterday, the board of governors refused to give Greg Dyke back his job as director-general. In the wake of the infamous Hutton report into the death of the government scientist David Kelly, Dyke made the mistake of offering the governors his resignation, having been assured, so he claims, that the offer would not be accepted. He subsequently blamed one particular governor, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, for betraying him, though she herself denies this.

Many of us, myself included, would not be over-worried - we might even regard it as a compliment - to be told that our stock in Whitehall was low. We are not told which governor referred to Dyke's low stock as a reason for hastening his departure, but Dame Pauline looks the likeliest candidate. She is one of those mysterious double-barrelled dames - others being Butler-Sloss and Manningham-Buller - who are always referred to as distinguished and who appear to exercise great influence behind the scenes.

Neville-Jones is a former civil servant who worked for many years in the Foreign Office. She is therefore used to doing what she is required to do by the Government, regardless of her own political views. That is what Whitehall is for. So if the Government is displeased with Greg Dyke, then the public good requires that he should be shown the door.

It is exactly the same attitude as that of Lord Hutton himself, whose report set this particular ball rolling. Questioned by MPs later as to why he had not recalled the Prime Minister when it looked as if he might have lied when he claimed to have had nothing to do with the release of Kelly's name, Hutton said: "Various allegations would be put to the Prime Minister. There would be glaring headlines about the allegations and I did not think it would be appropriate to do that."

Dame Pauline could not have put it better herself.

Which is the really staggering case?

Falsely accused of the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992, Colin Stagg is now to be paid £250,000 compensation by the Home Office.

Traditionally described as a loner or a weirdo in the press, Stagg has found it hard to clear his name. It is an open question whether he should be paid compensation by various newspapers, notably the Daily Mail, which, even after Stagg's trial was halted, continued to suggest that he had been guilty of the murder.

Even this week, when the award to Stagg was made public, the Daily Mail managed to pour cold water on the news by suggesting that the compensation was out of proportion to the £90,000 paid to Rachel Nickell's son, who, aged two, saw his mother being brutally stabbed to death.

While some people like me may wonder why he should receive any money at all, it is worth noting that no mention is now made of the £125,000 award made to a policewoman who was used to try to trap Stagg into a confession.

After the farcical trial came to an abrupt end, this officer, who has never been named, alleged that she had suffered terrible stress as a result of exchanging talk of sexual fantasies with a supposedly dangerous criminal (which he turned out not to be).

She subsequently retired from the force prematurely with her money and what was described as an "enhanced pension".

And, to this day, she has never breathed a word about the case - no doubt much to the relief of her superiors in the Metropolitan Police.

* Ruth Kelly has been dubbed a hypocrite for sending her boy to a private school. But is she? If Kelly had consistently maintained that the state schools were just as good as independent ones, then the charge would be justified. I'm not sure if she has ever said this.

If we look for guidance from the top, Mr Blair, himself the product of an independent school, has been unusually frank - you might even say honest - about this question.

He recently made a speech in which he said that it was possible in modern Britain for the rich to buy a better education for their children. This is a point that most would agree with, just as they would agree that the rich can buy better hospital treatment in the private sector than they would get on the NHS.

The schools league tables that were published this week would also seem to confirm the view that independent schools generally score better exam results than state schools.

So Blair was only stating the obvious. Unfortunately, he then went on to say that, while the rich could pay for a better education, there was nothing much that he could do to alter that state of affairs.

But this was as false as the first part was true. Blair could easily abolish private education if he wanted, or, failing that, make life difficult for independent schools by taking away their charitable status.

The reason he won't do either is that he doesn't want to upset the Daily Mail and middle England. In the circumstances, I am inclined to think him a far greater hypocrite than Kelly.