Saturday 22 August 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: He may be obsessive, but this man won't be lied to
"I understand how Jim Swire feels," writes Observer columnist Nick Cohen of the most persistent of the Lockerbie campaigners. "He lost his daughter and the lack of solid information over the years must have fed the wildest suspicions."
Where have we heard that kind of talk before? It reminds me of the way some journalists used to write about Mohamed Al Fayed. He too entertained what Cohen calls the wildest suspicions – in his case that Princess Diana was pregnant by his son, Dodi, that the Duke of Edinburgh had organised an assassination plot. But we were told that we shouldn't be too hard on him. After all, he'd lost his son so it wasn't to be wondered at that he should take refuge in crazy conspiracy theories.
I have met Dr Jim Swire on a number of occasions and have come to admire his tenacity, his mastery of detail, his dogged determination to get at the truth about Lockerbie in spite of all kinds of setbacks.
You can call him an obsessive if you like but nowadays when the public is fobbed off with lies, cover-ups and public inquiries manned by government stooges, when so few politicians are prepared to take up the cause of people like the Lockerbie relatives we rely on the Jim Swires to act as campaigners, whistle-blowers, amateur detectives. They are doing a job, often in isolation, that no one else can be bothered to do.
Despite the dropping of the Megrahi appeal Jim Swire can be relied upon to carry on. He will certainly not be deterred by being dismissed by The Observer as some kind of poor old Walter Mitty deserving of our sympathy.
People should stick to what they know
A great many of our current troubles seem to arise as a result of people doing things they're not qualified to do. In the case of the banking crisis it emerged, to the surprise of innocents like myself, that the banks were being run by men who had no previous banking experience. One had previously been in charge of the Asda supermarket chain.
We, the innocents, also thought that all that bankers did was lend money to suitable people at high rates of interest and became extremely rich as a result. But it transpired that the supermarket men had found all that sort of thing boring and had involved themselves in all kinds of dodgy investment operations – what they now call casino capitalism.
The story of newspapers looks strikingly similar. In this case, the people running papers like The Guardian got carried away with the thought that there must be more to life than producing a newspaper day after day. The internet beckoned and millions were spent on websites. Of the 800 or so journalists at the Guardian a considerable portion work on the website and related operations. Yet now it looks, as with the banks, that the chickens are coming home to roost.
The case of the BBC is slightly different. They too have spent millions producing a massive news service online. But they are doing it with money provided by the licence payers, in exchange for receiving TV and radio programmes. Millions of people, including myself, do not use a computer and have no wish to do so. We are paying for something we have no use for and, as with so many of the BBC's activities nowadays, this constitutes a bit of a scandal.
Mandelson's seductive power makeover
"Look at Margaret Thatcher," Barbara Castle said to Clare Short, who told me about it at this week's Oldie lunch. "Power has made her beautiful."
I know exactly what she meant, and so did Clare. Power, especially political power, does often change the physical appearance of those who acquire it. Their eyes in particular become bright and shiny, their complexion unnaturally glossy.
As it happens, I never fancied Mrs Thatcher but plenty of men did – Kingsley Amis and Alan Clark to name but two.
Likewise, a great many women were attracted by Tony Blair who had that same unnatural glow that Mrs Thatcher had. His eyes shone, his complexion blossomed, he radiated smiling goodwill to everybody he met.
But we all know, because Lord Acton told us long ago, that power corrupts and with that physical well-being comes the growing conviction that you know the right thing to do in any circumstances and so you have no need to listen to what other people may want to tell you. Thatcher and Blair were both of them victims.
The latest most striking transformation of this kind in a politician is that of Peter Mandelson who, after many years as a rather drab figure in the political wilderness, now finds himself in a position of immense power, running a huge ministry, making almost daily appearances on TV.
"I've never seen anyone seduce people with such effortless allure," wrote my friend Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian in a long interview with Mandelson. "His skin is dewy as if fresh from a spa facial..." It sounds horribly like yet another case of power conferring if not beauty then something quite similar on its lucky recipient.
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