Richard Ingrams’s Week: Get the inquisitor to answer a few questions

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The Independent Online

A strange situation developed at an early stage of Tony Blair's inquisition at the Chilcot inquiry yesterday. He was being questioned at some length by Sir Roderic Lyne about a speech he made in Chicago in 1999 making the case for military intervention in foreign states where nasty things were going on.

But the man who had actually written that speech, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, was sitting opposite Blair as one of his five inquisitors. Sir Lawrence was wisely keeping quiet about his involvement, just as he had done earlier in the week when Foreign Office officials described how Blair had ignored their legal objections to the Iraq war. In his 1999 speech Freedman had listed a number of criteria to justify intervention, but at no point did Freedman/ Blair address the tricky question of whether military intervention could be justified legally.

In this respect Freedman's position was little different from that of the American neocons who even then were proposing US military intervention to bring about a new-look Middle East. The legality or not of waging war on this alarming scale simply did not arise. In his recent book, A Choice of Enemies, Freedman describes as "conspiratorial" those of us who have accused the neocons of a pro-Israel agenda in promoting the Iraq war.

His fellow panellist, the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, went even further this week, accusing me and former ambassador Oliver Miles of anti-Semitism for raising the Zionist sympathies of himself and Freedman. Anyone who criticises the state of Israel and its supporters is used to being libelled as a racist. It's a novel experience for me to be attacked in this way by an eminent academic when speaking, appropriately, on a radio station from one of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, as Professor Freedman prefers to call it in his book).

Principles of press freedom

Professional footballers and their managers being probably the most disreputable group of people in the country, it is not surprising that the new privacy laws have been invoked most frequently by them to protect them from press intrusion.

One of the earliest cases involved a footballer who had an affair with another man's wife and who sought and was granted an injunction by Mr Justice Eady to prevent the cuckolded husband from naming him in the press. More recently, a football club manager who had been observed making regular visits to a brothel was likewise granted an injunction to prevent publication.

And this week there was news of a third such injunction being granted this time by Mr Justice Tugendhat, once again banning any mention of an alleged affair between a Premier League player and a girlfriend of one of his team-mates. Until yesterday, when it was lifted and we learnt that the player in question is John Terry, this was yet another case of what they call a super-injunction when even the granting of the injunction is supposed to remain a secret.

Footballers today – but how long before politicians take advantage of this new branch of litigation? They will do so, of course, while continuing to profess their belief in the freedom of the press.

But these latest rulings have already undermined the principle of press freedom. And the alarming thing is how generally feeble the response has been, even from journalists. That is perhaps because defending the freedom of the press nowadays means defending the freedom of a number of fairly unsavoury characters – not just journalists but proprietors as well. I shall name no names for fear of being taken to court.

It's all Greek to me, and life is so much the better for it

Someone mentioned the word logarithm to me the other day, a word I had not heard for several decades. And I could not for the life of me remember what a logarithm was or is. Do they still exist?

And yet there was a time when logarithms meant a lot to me and I can even remember a special blue logarithm book which was issued to all of us schoolboys. But what was in the book or why it was thought to be so useful I could not now begin to explain.

Then I was taught ancient Greek, which meant learning a special alphabet, an elaborate system of accents, not to mention an incredibly complicated array of different sorts of verbs all with a variety of tenses. I must have spent hours learning about all this because by the end of it I was expected to be able to translate poems into Greek, read the New Testament in Greek and recite passages from Greek tragedies.

But today if you showed me one of those passages it would mean nothing to me. As for the accents and the verbs, I wouldn't know where to begin.

The question then arises: did I derive any benefit at all from learning about logarithms and Greek verbs? And I have to say I find it difficult to give a positive answer to the question.

What I can say is that when I read that education minister Ed Balls is issuing new guidelines for school pupils aged between 14 and 16 to learn about "parenting skills, ethnic and culturally diversity, prejudice, bullying, discrimination and racism and the sexual and reproductive rights of young people", I would have to say that they would be better off learning all about logarithms.