Richard Ingrams' Week: This is where a dodgy grasp of history gets you

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The Independent Online

When Lord Levy was first taken on by Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister told him: "I want you to be my Lord Goodman figure."

Levy, who revealed this in his newly published memoir, was obviously flattered, and Blair certainly meant it as a compliment. But once again he showed that his knowledge of even quite recent history was considerably flaky.

Goodman, once an obscure libel lawyer, came to prominence with the Labour Party when, in 1957, he helped three ministers to win big libel damages against The Spectator, an action in which, as later emerged, all three had perjured themselves.

He subsequently proved useful to various politicians when it came to threatening or suing the press, particularly over any potentially damaging scandals.

Harold Wilson thought so highly of Goodman's abilities that he engaged him to negotiate with the rebel Rhodesian leader Ian Smith – a job for which he was hopelessly ill-equipped. It was, incidentally, in Rhodesia that Goodman, a notoriously greedy individual, acquired his nickname of "Two Dinners" after he accepted an invitation to dine at Government House when he had already eaten one supper at his hotel.

Not long after his death, The Independent revealed that Goodman had stolen large sums of money from his wealthy client Lord Portman. An explanation of why somebody as rich as Goodman should have done what he did has never been forthcoming.

If Levy would like us to think of him as the Goodman of our day, that's up to him. Those of us who remember "Two Dinners" only too well must be forgiven for our failure to share his pleasure.

When is a deterrent not a deterrent?

Those of us who lived through the long years of the Cold War are only too familiar with the theory of the deterrent.

The argument, which was traditionally used to counter those campaigning for unilateral nuclear disarmament, was that so long as both sides in the struggle possessed nuclear weapons, there was never going to be a war. In the event of an attack they would both be wiped out, thus making the whole thing pointless.

The best argument in favour of the deterrent theory was that it appeared to work, despite the times of tension, notably the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

And it wasn't only Russia and America that benefited. There was alarm a few years ago when nuclear warfare between India and Pakistan was considered a distinct possibility. But the fact that both countries possessed nuclear weapons meant that once again the deterrent was vindicated.

Only in the Middle East is the deterrent theory not thought to apply. There you have one country, Israel, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons (the existence of which it still denies) but now that it looks as if one of the neighbouring countries, Iran, might be heading the same way, the likes of George Bush and Gordon Brown view the possibility as a major threat to the whole of the civilised world.

But the Iranians could well feel threatened by those Israeli warheads and perhaps would like to sleep more soundly in their beds with the thought that they have some of their own. The deterrent theory would support that view. But it seems that what's good for the Americans, the Russians, the Indians and co doesn't work for the Israelis and the Iranians. Don't ask me why.

* Two huge and very hideous paintings by British artists were sold this week for record sums. Lucian Freud's picture of a naked and obese lady social worker crouching uncomfortably on a settee fetched £17.2m in New York. Francis Bacon's massive Triptych 1976 went for £44m only a few days later. There were sighs of relief from the art world, where rumours of an impending slump in art had been circulating.

But in both cases the purchasers of the paintings remained anonymous, the man who bought the Bacon being described merely as a "private European collector".

This anonymity is frustrating, partly because one would like to know what sort of person could possibly live with the Freud or the Bacon on their wall without being rendered horribly depressed or even suicidal. Or what sort of person, for that matter, would have a wall in their house so big that they would be able to hang one of these paintings in the first place.

And as for anonymity, isn't the word quickly going to go the rounds that old so-and-so has bought that big picture of that fat lady on the settee? The next thing you know is that it's a story in the gossip column.

The answer, I suspect, is that the paintings won't be displayed at all. They will be covered in bubble wrap and put into storage where it is hoped they will become even more valuable as the years pass. It seems rather a waste, especially as the chances of an art theft must in this case be remote. You would need a very large van and a gang of at least half a dozen men to make off with either of them.

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