Richard Ingrams’s Week: Come the revolution, who will be there to protect us?

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The Independent Online

My friend who keeps in close touch with the Army's top brass tells me that there is talk in the officers' mess of possible "civil disorder" in Britain with consequent demands on the military to suppress it. With the British Army scattered fighting unwinnable wars, that might be a difficult assignment.



There were similar mutterings in the 1970s when the country was faced with severe economic difficulties as it is now. Several VIPs – not just generals – became convinced that a revolution spearheaded by left-wing trade unionists was a real possibility and there was even talk of mounting a military coup in order to suppress it. "Feebleness has been this country's undoing," James Lees-Milne wrote in his diary in January 1974. "No national service, the exultation of godlessness, cynicism, the terrorism unchecked. I think it very possible that there may be fighting within four months."

There are precious few militant trade unionists these days but there is plenty of cynicism and terrorism, plus a growing awareness that politicians (with the possible exception of Mr Vince Cable) are out of their depth. You can't rely on the bankers and you certainly can't trust the police. So if there were to be civil disorder, which is not at all unlikely given the state of things at present, those generals might well start thinking that they could make a better job of keeping things in order than Gordon or Dave.

Get rid of this antiquated libel law

One of my proudest boasts is that I have stood in the dock of No 1 Court at the Old Bailey where many of the most infamous traitors and murderers have stood, but also quite a few non-murderers such as Oscar Wilde. The charge against me was one of criminal libel.

Like most others at that time (1976) I was unaware that a law of criminal libel was still in existence. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was notoriously used by the state to lock up subversive journalists or radical agitators such as Wilkes or Cobbett without giving them a chance to justify in court what they had written.

The law was later modified to give a defendant that right but it was never repealed. On investigation I discovered that it was quite frequently used to prosecute people who wrote defamatory letters to the police, though such cases seldom received any publicity.

My appearance at the Old Bailey turned out to be purely a formality as Sir James Goldsmith, who had instigated the prosecution and to everyone's surprise been given the go-ahead by a High Court judge, decided that he no longer wished to proceed. The case had become a grave embarrassment to him. But that made a nonsense of the whole case. If the libel was a crime then it was up to the state to decide whether or not to prosecute.

On Monday, thanks to Mr Evan Harris MP, the House of Commons will have the opportunity to vote for his amendment which could finally abolish this antiquated and disgraceful law. It would be nice to think that for once MPs might rise to the occasion.

Thanks to Boris, it's as if Thatcher had never gone away

Meeting Ken Livingstone again recently after a lapse of some years, I was able to tell him face to face that the only really radical move made in the long years of Labour government since 1997 was his introduction of the congestion charge in London.

Red Ken may have many failings but for this he deserves to be congratulated. The congestion charge is an imperfect instrument, but by and large it has succeeded in doing what it was supposed to do, that is to reduce the traffic in central London.

We ought not to be surprised, therefore, that the new London Mayor Boris Johnson, the most powerful Tory politician in Britain today, now plans to put the clock back. He has already said he's going to do away with the extension to the zone that Ken introduced, and now he has announced that the charge will in future be reduced for motorists coming in to London during off-peak hours.

The only result of that will be more not fewer cars, and therefore more traffic jams and slower buses.

In this Boris is proving himself to be just an old-fashioned Thatcherite. Thatcher hated public transport, especially trains, in which she hardly ever travelled. To her way of thinking the ideal British citizen was an individual driving his own car even if he was stuck in a five-mile tailback.

Buses, trains and tubes were part of the apparatus of socialism. And as for Red Ken, he was the devil incarnate.

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