Richard Ingrams’s Week: Corridors of power can trap the unwary outsider

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The Independent Online

I shouldn't think the name C P Snow means much to today's generation, but 40-odd years ago he was well known as a novelist – he coined the expression "the corridors of power" – and also a scientist.

It was thanks to his scientific qualifications that he was given a job in the newly launched ministry of technology in Harold Wilson's government, Wilson being keen to bring in distinguished outsiders to help him to build the new Britain.

Snow did not last long in the corridors of power. Unaware of the implications, he referred in a House of Lords debate on education to the fact that he was sending his son to Eton because he thought it a very good school. After that, he had to go.

An intensely self-important figure, Snow once wrote a long indignant letter to Harold Wilson pleading for permission to sue Private Eye for libel (Wilson sensibly urged against it), and I was reminded of this by the behaviour this week of Lord Sugar, like Lord Snow an outsider brought in by our Labour Prime Minister to help to build a new Britain. Because Lord Sugar is currently threatening to sue the Daily Mail journalist Quentin Letts, who accused him in so many words of being a peer of very little brains.

If he wasn't one before, Lord Sugar has made himself a laughing stock and I predict that his political career will be even shorter than C P Snow's. Of the eminent outsiders brought into his government by Gordon Brown, that will then leave only Admiral West, bravely remaining on the burning deck "whence all but he has fled".

Boycott this 'safeguarding' scheme

If you bring in a rule that parents who volunteer to help with school trips will in future have to pay £64 to prove they are not child molesters, a great many of them will decide that, quite apart from the implied insult, its just not worth all the bother and expense. But that does not seem to have occurred to the little-known Sir Roger Singleton who heads up something called the Independent Safeguard Authority, the body responsible for these new regulations.

The slightly better known Sir Michael Bichard, who led the official inquiry following the Soham murders of 2002, fully supports the new regulations which he himself helped to pioneer.

But to show his essential reasonableness he says that he has reservations."I made it very clear that I did not want parents to have to check relatives before they could put their children in their care for babysitting or things like that." The fact that Sir Michael refers at all is such an absurd idea and suggests that there are those in authority that think it not unreasonable to demand such precautions. Nor does Sir Michael have much sympathy with those famous authors and illustrators who plan to boycott schools which demand that they pay to register before visiting. "I don't think Roger Federer complains because he has to expose himself to drug-testing," he says.

Sir Michael, who would appear to be lacking in what used to be known as common sense, apparently draws no distinction between a man competing in a tennis tournament and a group of authors and artists who are prepared to give up their time to visit schools. I'm afraid it is only by public protests and boycotts that the Sir Rogers and Sir Michaels of this world can be brought to heel.

Two tickets to the latest expenses episode, please

It is probably not a good idea for Mr Alan Yentob, above, to appear as a public spokesman for the BBC on matters relating to salaries and expenses.

The sight of this smug, smiling figure with his scrubby beard is enough to arouse feelings of anger and indignation among all right-thinking folks. When he begins to justify, as he did this week, the vast sums spent on his expenses, such feelings can only be intensified.

Put on the spot about expenses enjoyed by BBC executives like himself as compared to those of MPs, Yentob argues that the MPs spend money on themselves, whereas all of his expenses are connected in one way or another to his work. Thus when Yentob claims £166 for tickets to the theatre for himself and an unnamed companion to see the musical Spamalot he insists that the only reason he went was because he was thinking of putting the show on the television.

Viewers will reach their own conclusion about this sort of thing. But of course the basic difference between Mr Alan Yentob and a Member of Parliament is that Yentob is paid an annual salary of £340,000 (not to mention his £2.5m pension pot) whereas many MPs have claimed, with some justification, that they have actually been encouraged to claim lavish expenses because their salary (£64,000) is modest in comparison with those of many professional people.

It is when you reflect on that huge sum of £340,000, paid by us, the licence-payers, that you may find yourself beginning to seethe at the thought of Yentob expecting us to pay for his visits to the theatre in addition (£20 for interval drinks included).

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