Richard Ingrams’s Week: Let him who is without sin put in an expenses claim

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The Independent Online

It was Dr Johnson, who, when one of his young aristocratic friends was thinking of going into politics, urged him to go ahead, observing that he would "make a very pretty rascal".

That, I always thought, sums up the general view that we have of our political leaders. But now we are asked to work on the assumption that until a few months ago when the MPs' expenses scandal broke, politicians were universally regarded not as pretty rascals, but upright citizens concerned only to improve the lot of their fellow men.

The revelation that this was not in fact the case has resulted, apparently, in widespread anger, not to say the fury so beloved of headline writers.

I would find it easier to join in this nationwide orgy of indignation were it not for the fact that those ladies and gentlemen of the media who are acting as usual as the cheerleaders are, generally speaking, paid massively larger salaries than the MPs they are castigating, in addition to enjoying just as many if not more perks and privileges on the side. So if indignation is what you are after, it is healthier to feel indignant about, say, the BBC Director General's £800,000 salary than about Gerald Kaufman MP claiming for two bowls to keep his grapefruit in.

Equally scandalous is the £100,000 payment being made to Alastair Campbell's phone-a-friend Professor Sir Ian Kennedy for a three-day week during which he's expected to restore our trust in MPs.

It was revealed recently that the professor when head of something called the Healthcare Commission put in a expenses claim for taxis to take him to and from work in addition to being paid an annual salary of £170,000. Yet he is described in the report as "a respected academic". Respected by whom?

Everyone's a scientist these days

Alastair Campbell the budding novelist. Esther Rantzen the crusader for probity in public life. You can never predict how such people are going to reinvent themselves.

Thus I was surprised to the see the former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson appearing on TV and not, as you might have expected, to tell us his views about the credit crunch.

Lawson, once a chubby performer verging on the obese but now thin and almost emaciated, comes in a new guise as an expert on climate change, his line being that we have nothing to fear, the global warming thing having been blown up out of all proportion.

One commentator I read last week, sharing the same viewpoint as Lawson, referred to his opponents in the great debate as "the green lobby" as though they were a posse of woolly-minded Guardian readers and probably vegetarians to boot. But anyone trying to make sense of this debate must first grapple with the fact that very large numbers of scientists all over the world are of the opinion that global warming is happening, that it is man made and that it is potentially very dangerous. And we all know that scientists are very cautious people who take years to come to decisions like that.

But those who take a different view, the so-called sceptics, with few exceptions are not at all cautious. They are people like Nigel Lawson, almost all of them with right-wing sympathies, few of them with scientific qualifications. They should not be surprised if in the circumstances some of us prefer to pay more attention to those scientists.

A case of misplaced faith?

Protestants are staunch whereas Catholics are almost always described as devout in the press, though it has never been clear to me exactly what this devoutness entails.

If regular church attendance is the sole criterion, then it may be OK for Cherie Blair to be dubbed devout. Otherwise you couldn't say her approach to life smacks particularly of religious devotion. She is, after all, well known for her devotion not to God but to money, the love of which Protestants and Catholics have been brought up to believe is the root of all evil.

Cherie in her capacity as a part-time judge has been getting stick this week following her decision to suspend the sentence on a Muslim found guilty of assault, on the grounds that he was "a religious person". Naturally this has caused a predictable protest from the humanist community which doesn't like the idea that religious people have a more scrupulous approach to behaviour than the non-religious.

Cherie, however, has a perfectly good point if she argues that one of the great benefits of religion is that it insists that adherents regularly examine their conscience and ask God's forgiveness for what they may have done wrong.

Where she is mistaken is to assume that religious people necessarily follow the teaching of their particular faith. She need look no further than her husband and fellow Catholic Tony to see someone who appears to have no awareness of all that he has done wrong and announced that he would do it all again if he had the chance.