Saturday 20 June 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: No one talks nonsense quite like a historian
Sir Martin Gilbert, the allegedly distinguished historian who is one of those appointed to investigate the Iraq war, has let it be known that one day in the future Bush and Blair might be seen in the same light as Roosevelt and Churchill. A good example of the rule that when it comes to talking nonsense it's hard to beat a historian.
Journalists have always been a more reliable source of information, and thanks to their efforts we now know the answers about Blair, sexed-up dossiers, his lies about the weapons of mass destruction. I myself have a large collection of books which tell me all I want to know on the subject.
There is, however, still a mystery about Iraq, which is why any inquiry into the war should begin by questioning Americans. It was, after all, their war and it was their president who started it. We, in the person of our sanctimonious Prime Minister Blair, merely tagged along.
Why did the Americans invade? We still don't know. Even Bush's director of policy at the state department Richard Haass has said that "he would go to his grave not knowing the answer". Some people insist that it was all about oil, others that preserving the security of Israel was a prime factor.
These are questions that Brown's committee can be relied on not to pursue – least of all the question of any Israeli involvement. Like his fellow historian Lawrence Freedman, who also sits on the inquiry, Sir Martin Gilbert is a committed Zionist and he would be most unwilling to consider anything that might disturb his absurd conception of Blair and Bush as a latter-day Churchill and FDR.
Oh no! Life without broadband!
There might, after all, be something to be said for having a religious leader like the grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in charge, if only to remind people of the deeper issues. "Tolerance is very difficult," he told the Iranians this week. "Increase the capacity for defeat in yourself." It is advice that might benefit all of us, not to mention our leaders, if only they have ears to hear.
Gordon Brown for one. Because it is becoming more and more difficult, even for those of us who have a soft spot for the old boy, to think that he has any kind of future as Prime Minister. If anybody needs to increase his capacity for defeat it is him. Consider, in particular, his recent pronouncement that "having a fast internet connection is now seen by most of the public as an essential service as indispensable as electricity, gas and water".
This to justify the proposed telephone tax to pay for the upgrading of the broadband network. The so-called "superfast access" would allow people to download films in seconds. One report states in all seriousness that "the viewers would also be able to watch several channels of high-definition TV at the same time".
And Gordon Brown appears to believe that the majority of British citizens think that having the facility to do this and to watch six televisions programmes at once is as vital to their well-being as the provision of water or gas.
Since when does a monopoly provide consumer choice?
A bit of a row is developing over the news that WH Smith and Penguin have done a deal, the consequence of which will be that only Penguin guidebooks will in future be available at WH Smith at railway stations and airport shops.
In response to protests from the Society of Authors and campaigners headed by travel writer Michael Palin, Smith's stated that it had had what it called an "extremely positive customer feedback", arguing that it wanted only to make life easier for travellers who were "often pushed for time".
This, of course, is humbug. How can you have customer feedback when the new arrangement has still to come into force? As for those customers who are said to be pushed for time, anyone who has ever visited an airport knows only too well that what you have in abundance is time to kill, and in that situation a well-stocked bookshop would be welcome.
The Office of Fair Trading is being urged to investigate what is quite plainly a monopolistic ramp, but the real scandal that the OFT ought to look into, but won't, is the stranglehold that WH Smith has on all the retail outlets at railway stations and airports. Its second–rate, poorly managed shops ought to provide a wide range not just of travel guides but of all books and magazines. But as we all know, most of the space is nowadays taken up by sweets and soft drinks.
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