Richard Ingrams’s Week: No wonder the public has so little faith in politicians

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The Independent Online

The British are a lot of softies nowadays, unable to cope with even a few inches of snow. Scarcely had that particular cry died down than the armed forces minister, Bill Rammell, was suggesting that the country might get "so risk-averse, cynical and introverted" that we would never again be prepared to countenance military action against a foreign power.

In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research, Rammell went on to list those trends in society which in his view are making it difficult for governments to deploy troops – the decline of deference, the growth of mistrust of those in authority, the round-the-clock media, etc.

It was unfortunate for Rammell that his speech should come only a day after it was revealed by Alastair Campbell, when giving evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, that in letters sent to George Bush in 2002 Tony Blair pledged that Britain would stand by America in any invasion of Iraq. It is safe to assume that those letters will not be made public. It is even safer to assume that the Chilcot inquiry will fail to make strenuous attempts to make sure they are published.

Campbell, meanwhile, proudly asserted that he stands by everything in his famous dossier, including the categorical statement by Blair that "without doubt" Saddam possessed WMD. We can expect similar assertions from Blair himself when he gives his evidence.

The moral is if the public mistrusts authority, as Rammell claims, then it has very good reason to. And if Blair, Campbell and co are seen to get away with it, then the people will mistrust authority even more. And who can blame them?

A fine romance? Perhaps not

Elderly cynics like myself will find it hard to swallow the picture of Lady Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter as the stars of one of the world's greatest and most moving romances, as depicted in Lady Antonia's newly published memoirs.

For when it all began in the dear dead days of the 1970s it was considered a major scandal, albeit a fairly comical one, which inspired a whole new school of journalism and made the name of the best-known gossip columnist of his day, Nigel Dempster.

It was in April 1975 that Dempster first revealed the affair. When Mrs Pinter, the actress Vivien Merchant, sued her husband for divorce, Dempster published across a whole page of the Daily Mail a catalogue of Lady Antonia's former lovers, most of them well-known society figures such as the young Tory MP Jonathan Aitken.

This caused a major furore in Fleet Street, with posh papers such as The Observer castigating Dempster for intruding into the private affairs of a well-known member of the aristocracy, a Roman Catholic mother of six, and the author of best-selling historical works about miscellaneous kings and queens.

Nowadays no one would bat an eyelid about such run-of-the-mill revelations. But Dempster was also helped by the farcical aspects of the divorce and in particular Vivien Merchant's famous comment when told that her husband was coming round to collect all his shoes: "He could always wear hers."

Ever since, it has been difficult to take the Pinter/Fraser story altogether seriously. Nor is it likely that Lady Antonia's diaries will do anything much to dispel the essentially absurd picture of the famous couple's relationship, which we older folk will continue to cherish.

Forget the sex – it's the money that is so scandalous

Despite their reputation for dour, Victorian-style Protestant puritanism, Northern Irish voters seem to have been more offended by the revelations of Mr and Mrs Robinson's money-grubbing habits than they are about the brief romance Mrs Robinson had with the 19-year-old son of her one-time butcher.

It's not just the big salaries they earn between them, along with the familiar catalogue of MPs' expenses. There have been detailed descriptions of the extravagant furnishings at the Robinsons' home – the silk curtains, the hand-painted wallpaper, the chandeliers in every room.

It was Lord Mandelson who famously said that New Labour was "intensely relaxed" about people being filthy rich. It was a view that was echoed recently by his old friend and colleague Blair. The press could be relied upon to take a negative view but people in general "see nothing wrong with earning lots of money".

Perhaps it's just thanks to the recession but the facts prove otherwise. Blair and his wife strike the public much as the Robinsons do – a greedy couple on the make, out to enrich themselves in any way they can. And it's not just the politicians. The director-general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, was again under attack this week, not for the poor quality of his programmes – there has been a marked slump in the BBC's viewing figures over the past two months – but over his £800,000 salary.

Thompson could easily silence his critics by taking a big pay cut. He can't possibly need all that money to maintain his modest lifestyle but he won't do it because the salary matters to him simply as a status symbol to impress colleagues and rivals.

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