Richard Ingrams’s Week: Oh brother, can you spare me a few blushes?

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The Independent Online

As if all his troubles weren't enough, George Osborne now finds himself being pestered with press enquiries about his brother Adam.

Adam Osborne was until the other day a doctor working in the psychiatry department of a Manchester hospital. But he has now been forced to resign while an investigation is carried out into allegations that he has been supplying tranquillisers to a number of his friends. If the charges are confirmed, then the doctor could find himself struck off the register for life.

To have an embarrassing brother seems to be one of the occupational hazards of political life. The American President Jimmy Carter was a notable example. His brother Billy was an alcoholic who appeared regularly on TV chat shows – to the dismay of the President. Roger Clinton was likewise an embarrassment to his brother Bill. He had a cocaine habit which at one point led to the whole family having to attend group therapy sessions.

The best-known British political brother was the late Terry Major-Ball, elder brother of the former Tory Prime Minister John Major. Terry, a genial if rather naive individual, was more addicted to publicity than to alcohol or cocaine and became quite a celebrity in his own right, making TV programmes and giving interviews to the press.

John Major did his best to ignore the sideshow, but in fact he may well have benefited from the antics of his brother as they injected a bit of colour into what was otherwise the rather grey and boring Major scenario. I doubt if Dr Osborne will have the same beneficial effect.

Haunted by Thatcherism's ghost

"The Death of New Labour" was how one newspaper headline greeted Alistair Darling's radical pre-Budget statement on Monday, but it isn't right. What they should really have headlined was the death of Thatcherism.

One of the drawbacks of modern-day journalism is that it has a very limited time range. Young people in particular have little knowledge of events of more than about 10 years ago but – more seriously – they see no reason why they should. They take their cue from the likes of Tony Blair, who was worryingly ignorant of history having persuaded himself that as the world after 9/11 was a totally different place from what it had been before, there was no point bothering about what might have gone on prior to that date.

As for New Labour, it was never an original concept, simply a continuation of what the Tories under Thatcher and Major had been doing. Thatcher was a great believer in laissez-faire economics. The economy did best when business and banking were allowed to do their thing without tiresome regulations and government interference. New Labour in the shape of Blair and Brown got the message and had no intention of putting the clock back.

All that has changed in the twinkling of an eye, as St Paul so memorably put it. Yet not everyone seems to have grasped that fact. There are plenty of people this week moaning that the higher taxes introduced by Darling would lead to a brain drain from the City. But the City and the banks have been rumbled, as, for that matter, has Thatcher. There aren't very many brains left to drain.

Trust Willie Rushton to be beastly to the Germans

Invited back to our old school Shrewsbury to open a new science building, my lifelong friend Willie Rushton delivered what may claim to be the world's shortest speech consisting of only three words as follows: "The bugger's open."

Some time later, speaking at a literary lunch which I was chairing, Willie began without any of the usual formalities. "Where would we be without a sense of humour," he boomed, giving the answer without a moment's pause. "Germany."

I am reminded of this by the sale this weekend at auction of what is described as a cherished collection of Nazi humour consisting of 150 black-and-white postcards showing various shots of German ships and sailors, each one a specimen of the unique humour of the Third Reich.

"Among the pictures," says one report, "is a photo of three sailors being sick over the side of a ship with the wry caption, 'Sea-sick oh what a joy'." Wry it may very well be, but it would surely be stretching things a bit to call it funny. Still, perhaps that was about their limit of humour under the restrictions of the Nazi regime.

But not everybody shared the Rushtonian view of German comedy or the lack of it.

It was the late Diana Mosley, wife of the British fascist leader Sir Oswald and mother of the now notorious sadomasochist Max, who insisted that there was a definitely humorous side to Nazism.

Questioned once by my friend the novelist A N Wilson about what had most attracted her to Adolf Hitler, she replied, "Oh, the jokes of course."

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