Saturday 9 May 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: Pots and kettles spring to mind in expenses coverage
My friend Sefton Delmar, the famous Daily Express foreign correspondent, used to say that he could only think clearly in a five-star hotel. His proprietor, Lord Beaverbrook, was happy to oblige.
The fact that a great many journalists have the same kind of aim in life as Delmar – even if in today's climate it may not be so easy to put it into practice – is what makes me reluctant to join in the cries of shock and horror over the various expenses fiddles being worked by our members of parliament.
Because the people leading the chorus of righteous indignation are engaged in much the same kind of petty corruption as those MPs. They may not have second homes on the parliamentary scale but they have plenty of free lunches at expensive restaurants and are just as likely to be spotted in the departure lounge at Heathrow on their way to some lavish overseas junket – what is known in the trade as a "freebie".
The senior figures in Fleet Street or the BBC are paid much higher salaries even than the Prime Minister and the perks are on a much more lavish scale. I recall that the BBC's former director general John Birt was provided with a Land Rover free of charge for exclusive use by his wife.
Most importantly, these high-living media barons can sleep soundly in their beds at night knowing that whatever happens, the details of their perks and freebies are unlikely ever to be exposed all over the front page of The Daily Telegraph.
Where do we draw the line?
I should think quite a few headmasters and school governors got a bit of a shock over the breakfast table this week when they read of the case of Mr Patrick Raggett.
Mr Raggett, described in the press as "a former high-flying solicitor", was given leave by a High Court judge Mrs Justice Smith to pursue a case against the governors of his old school Preston Catholic College. Run by the Jesuits, where Mr Raggett claims he was subjected to sexual abuse by one of the priests on the staff Father Michael Spencer. As a result, he says, he has undergone severe emotional damage, suffered from alcoholism and lost his job. He is now claiming £5m in compensation.
There are a number of strange things about this story, not least the fact that despite the catalogue of abuse he claims to have suffered, Mr Raggett went to great lengths to invite Father Spencer to officiate at his wedding in 1991. But it is the legal implications that are even more bizarre. The alleged abuse occurred 30 years ago, the alleged abuser Father Spencer is now dead, and the school has long since ceased to exist.
The media are always keen for any chance to bash the Catholic Church which is probably why Mr Raggett has been given a sympathetic hearing in the press.
But religion is not the point at issue. Thanks to Justice Smith's judgment it would now be possible for any former pupil at any school (religious or not) to file a similar claim to Mr Raggett's allegations of abuse many years previously. At the hands of a man who cannot defend himself for the simple reason that he is dead.
I could even think of two or three of my own schoolfellows who could make a similar case – though their stories might relate to more than 50 years ago. But if 30 why not 50? The principle is surely the same.
Cameron's feminist crusade betrays less noble motives
Showing once again that his political idol is Tony Blair, David Cameron is pledging there will be more and more women MPs when the great day comes and the Tories are returned to power.
Blair has been there before with his famous collection of Blair Babes who crammed the Labour backbenches in 1997. But to what effect?
Both Blair and Cameron stress that they are modernisers responding to the rightful demand of women wanting to break through the infamous glass ceiling and attain equality with their male counterparts.
I suspect, however, that the true motive behind their feminist crusade is rather different. They want to have more women MPs in their ranks because they have come to the view that women are more easily bossed about than men, more likely to provide helpful lobby fodder when the occasion demands. When such women have been promoted to high office, they have too often proved an embarrassment. The current Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is the latest example and can be expected shortly to sink without trace.
In recent years two women MPs have stood out as interesting politicians with forceful characters and strongly independent views. They are Clare Short and Ann Widdecombe (pictured). It is surely significant that both of these very able women – neither of them easily bossed about – have been rejected by their respective parties and both of them are getting out of politics for good.
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