Richard Ingrams: When those in power abandon all scruples

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The Independent Online

This month sees the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the world's most successful conmen, L Ron Hubbard, founder of the so-called Church of Scientology. Despite all the exposés, the court actions and the multiple tales of human misery, the movement continues to thrive and will no doubt be preparing lavish celebrations all over the world to honour its founder.

L Ron's mission statements are simply stated. "If a man really wanted to make one million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start a new religion" was one – hence his decision to call Scientology a church and use the cross as its symbol. Secondly, and more significantly he stated that "the only way to control people is to lie to them".

There are plenty of unscrupulous politicians, from Hitler downwards, who would confirm L Ron's formula. Especially so today, when lying has become an almost acceptable weapon in the political armoury.

And not only in politics. We all know how Rupert Murdoch gave solemn and binding undertakings when he bought The Times 30 years ago, undertakings which were speedily broken. Recently his employees misrepresented the extent of the phone-hacking scandal so brazenly that they plainly expect to get away with it. And they are probably right. In the meantime, a smiling Murdoch sails on, richer and more powerful than ever.

But isn't Gaddafi your friend, Mr Blair?

The BBC's Nick Robinson reports that David Cameron's minions have been advised by the Prime Minister to study Tony Blair's memoirs for useful tips on how to conduct the nation's affairs.

That might go some way to explaining why the Coalition is currently making a mess of pretty well everything to which they turn their hand. But, curiously, if they consult Blair's bulky 700-page book for advice on how to deal with Libya and Colonel Gaddafi, they will find absolutely nothing to assist them. They will see plenty of nice colour pictures of our former leader meeting and greeting all kinds of Middle Eastern leaders – Hamid Karzai, Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Arafat – but no sign of that picture much reproduced in recent days of Blair and Gaddafi in a bear-like embrace when meeting in the Libyan desert in 2003.

Yet at the time Blair was very full of what he saw as a diplomatic triumph, apparently persuading Gaddafi to renounce his WMD programme (which may never even have existed) and welcoming him back into the Western fold. Not only that, Blair, faced with apparent disaster in Iraq, was able to point to Gaddafi's climbdown as a direct result of the overthrow of Saddam and proof therefore that the invasion had not been in vain. So why has he nothing whatever to tell us about it in his book?

Salutary tale of Desert Island risks

In a desperate attempt to get the punters to invest in a digital radio, something that a great many of us have so far failed to do, the BBC is launching a kind of digital Radio 4 spin-off in the hope that the digital deniers will see the light. One of the attractions of the digital Radio 4 will be the repeat of old recordings of Desert Island Discs – quite a good idea considering it is the longest-running and most successful programme the BBC has ever broadcast.

However listeners will never be able to hear what must have been the funniest ever DID. As recounted in Stephen Pyle's The Book of Heroic Failures, in the early 1970s the creator of Desert Island Discs, Roy Plomley, invited Alistair MacLean, the celebrated author of The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare and other best-selling yarns, to appear on the programme. As was customary – and as I personally can remember – Plomley made a habit, prior to the recording, of taking his castaway to lunch at his club, the Savile.

"Which part of the year do you put aside for your writing?" Plomley asked MacLean over the brown windsor soup. "I don't understand" was the reply. "I am in charge of the Ontario tourist bureau." It then dawned on Plomley that the BBC had somehow managed to book the wrong Alistair MacLean. But he went ahead with the recording nevertheless which sadly was never broadcast.