Richard Ingrams’s Week: Bring on the brain drain – the public is ready for it

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The Independent Online

Those of us who lived through the days of Old Labour as opposed to New will remember the traditional response to any suggestion by the Government of higher taxes for the rich – that any such move would lead to a brain drain and deprive the country of its greatest entrepreneurial talents.

It was reassuring, or perhaps rather depressing, to find this week that nothing much has changed, at least as far as the Tories and The Daily Telegraph are concerned. The consensus was that at a wave of Darling's wand we were back to the bad old days of the class war.

The likelihood, however, is that in this one area at least Brown and Darling have got it right as far as the voters are concerned – partly at least because, thanks to Thatcher and Blair, rich people are nowadays a great deal richer than they were in the 1960s and 70s.

The public is told every day about the truly vast sums earned by pop singers, footballers, Jonathan Ross and co. And was it only a week or so ago that those same newspapers which are now attacking Darling's tax plans were filled with details of the huge salaries, bonuses and pensions which are being claimed by bankers and City men.

Yet now we are being asked to feel worried about the possibility that such men may be so dispirited by the new tax measures proposed by Darling that they will emigrate to other countries (unnamed) where their talents will be properly rewarded. It's perfectly true that many of them may indeed leave the country – but only to escape the long arm of the law.

In thrall to an American lobby

Rich Americans long ago realised that the British libel courts offered them a much better chance of being awarded substantial damages than their US counterparts. You had only to show that the offending publication circulated in this country, even if only a few copies were sold. I had not realised, however, till the other day that American pressure groups can also operate very effectively in Britain.

This is something that emerges from the story of the BBC's experienced Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen who, as disclosed in this paper on 16 April, was recently censured by the BBC Trust for showing bias in his reporting of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We have rightly asked why the BBC should go out of its way to blacken the reputation of one of its best reporters. More puzzling is why it should feel obliged to spend weeks investigating a complaint about Bowen from an American pressure group.

The organisation in question is called Camera (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America – not the UK, you note). Camera was formed in 1982 following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It is now a powerful organisation with a membership of over 55,000 and offices in Washington, New York and Boston as well as Israel. Camera makes no bones of the fact that it is engaged in a propaganda exercise to promote the cause of Zionism. Nothing wrong with that. However, it has little to do with the rights and wrongs of journalism.

What is shameful is that the BBC should waste time and public money investigating, and in this case upholding, the complaints of wealthy American lobbyists who seek to promote the cause of a foreign government.

Boris as a Roman farmer? Nice one, Centurion

London Mayor Boris Johnson, likes to show off his classical education by peppering his speeches with Latin tags and the occasional epigram.

He was at it again this week. When asked by an interviewer whether he had ambitions to become Prime Minister he replied that, "if like Cincinnatus I were to be called from my plough, then obviously it would be wrong of me not to help out".

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus had at least one thing in common with Boris. He was a diehard conservative. And a persistent opponent of the plebeians. But he is remembered nowadays only as the man who liked best living on his farm and who returned to Rome only when it was threatened by invaders.

Boris Johnson must hope that we, his audience, do not share his knowledge of ancient history; otherwise they might find the comparison between the London Mayor and the humble Roman farmer rather an unconvincing one.

For a start, Boris has no farm and his knowledge of ploughing is nil. And if Boris ever gets into Downing Street – an eventuality which cannot be ruled out – it will be because he has fought tooth and nail to achieve his ends.

The picture of Boris living quietly on his farm and reluctantly abandoning his pastoral pursuits in order to answer his country's call is as fanciful as that of Cincinnatus pedalling round ancient Rome on a bicycle promising to abolish the congestion charge on all the chariots converging on the Forum.