Saturday 13 February 2010
Richard Ingrams’s Week: All this advance publicity has killed the suspense
I shall not be tuning into Gordon Brown's TV interview tomorrow. And it has nothing to do with the lateness of the hour or my strong aversion to the interviewer, former Mirror editor Piers Morgan.
No. The real reason is that I know already what Brown is going to say. In case you don't know, he will finally admit that there was indeed a Granita pact with Blair, and he will become all emotional about the death of his baby girl. I know all this because it has been widely reported in the press.
It has always been a mystery to me why TV companies release such details in advance when they must know there will be quite a lot of people like me who won't bother to watch when we already know what we are going to hear. Politicians themselves are no different. "In a speech today Mr X will accuse Mr Y of deliberately distorting the chicken-feed statistics." Who then will want to listen to the speech?
But the same kind of situation seems to operate with modern warfare. In the past, military leaders went to great lengths to conceal their plans from the enemy. In the run-up to D-Day, even The Daily Telegraph's crossword compiler was monitored in case he was giving away secrets in his clues.
But as things stand we all know that Nato forces are about to launch a massive attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan because it has been trailed in advance throughout the media. I imagine that word of the assault has by now reached the Taliban, assuming as I do that they listen in regularly to the BBC World Service.
If true to form, the Taliban will beat a hasty retreat so we may not have to fight them. But then again, that could have been our cunning plan all along.
When in doubt, shout conspiracy
It is always fair to assume that when people start referring to their opponents as conspiracy theorists they are on weak ground.
Tony Blair was doing it the other day when he dismissed critics of his Iraq policy in an interview on American TV. Sir Lawrence Freedman, a member of the Chilcot inquiry team, likewise has accused those of us who draw attention to the links between Israel and the American neocons as conspiratorial – the irony being that those neocons have never made any attempt to conceal their loyalties. Now the head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, has referred in public to a "conspiracy theory" being advanced by Court of Appeal judges who have attacked MI5 for concealing their knowledge of what went on at Guantanamo.
No one is clear what exactly constitutes a conspiracy. What was the conspiracy that Blair thinks he is being accused of? He doesn't say, but it isn't necessary. The use of the word conspiracy is enough to put into people's minds the idea that the critics concerned may well be the sort of people who believe the Moon landing never took place. But for MI5 to demonise conspiracy theorists is a little bit rich when we know that in our day they had been shown to have been involved in genuine conspiracies in Northern Ireland.
There is no doubt, for example, that during the 1970s, MI5 engaged in an operation code-named Clockwork Orange to destabilise Harold Wilson's government by suggesting false links between Labour ministers and Irish Republicans.
So when exactly did they change their spots, if indeed they ever did?
Thou shalt not anger atheists
There is nothing like God to make people feel really angry. And the strange thing about it is the way the non-believers tend to get even angrier than their opposite numbers.
My great friend and mentor Malcolm Muggeridge had a wonderful way of annoying people when questioning them on TV about religion. The philosopher Bertrand Russell became almost apoplectic with rage when Malcolm questioned his view that Christianity has been responsible for most of the troubles in the world.
I was reminded of that last Sunday watching Ann Widdecombe questioning Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry about the 10 Commandments. Hitchens, who once wrote a book attacking Mother Teresa, became so angry that he left the room mid-interview.
Stephen Fry prides himself on his old-world courtesy and charm. But he also lost his cool when questioned by La Widdecombe – all the more peculiar as there was nothing at all provocative in her approach.
Nor, for that matter, can one see anything very controversial about the 10 Commandments themselves. But both Hitchens and Fry plainly regarded them as a serious threat, "They have repressed and tyrannised and bullied," Fry spluttered, as if being told by Moses not to murder and steal was the most appalling atrocity ever to have been inflicted on the human race.
Widdecombe looked a bit bemused throughout. I expect she may have been thinking that House of Commons debates were positively civilised when compared to this kind of undignified argy-bargy.
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