Richard Ingrams’s Week: The public has little faith in this 'war on terror'

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The Independent Online

Put on the spot over the affair of Baby P, the head of children's services at Haringey, Sharon Shoesmith, said her services had "worked effectively". It reminded me of Commander Cressida Dick apropos the de Menezes shooting who said the other day that "we did nothing wrong".

Neither woman is likely to suffer as a result of what has happened and this again will only help to undermine further the public's confidence in the social services and the police force.

The police as we know are all in favour of getting more powers for dealing with suspected terrorists, and there are plenty of politicians including Gordon Brown who would like to give them those powers. Does it occur to them that there will be quite a lot of people who have noted those words of Cressida Dick and the conduct of her officers at Stockwell station who think the police should be given fewer, not more, powers?

This is the difficulty the authorities have in their "war on terror". Because the record, going back to the many public relations disasters and the miscarriages of justice involving suspected Irish terrorists (the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, etc), is far from reassuring.

The Libyan Ali Al- Megrahi, held responsible for the deaths of 259 people 20 years ago in the Pan Am explosion over Lockerbie, was refused bail yesterday pending an appeal, although he is suffering from cancer.

Megrahi was found guilty in January 2001 after a trial held before three senior Scottish judges. Yet there is a mass of evidence now to suggest that he was innocent of the bombing, despite the Libyan government having paid compensation to the victims' families. If it is proved that Megrahi is innocent, it will be yet another demonstration of the incompetence of the police and the legal system when it comes to combating terrorism.

Proud to be American – in 2004?

We are still being told to salute the Americans for electing Barack Obama as their next president. But before everybody gets too carried away, let them bear in mind that this supposedly admirable USA which voted for Obama also voted for George Bush, not once but twice. And the second time round was not all that long after his disastrous invasion of Iraq, and at a time when everyone could then tell that it was a disaster and that Bush and his colleagues had told them a lot of lies about it beforehand.

In some enlightened quarters there was a great deal of anger and indignation in 2004 when Bush was re-elected – which I shared. But I took comfort in the thought that, as time wore on and as more facts emerged, Bush would become increasingly discredited and reviled.

And sure enough, this is exactly what happened. If Bush had lost in 2004 he might have retired to Texas to write his memoirs without too much of a fuss, instead of which as he soldiered on; his popularity sank lower and lower till he ended up the most despised and unpopular president in the long history of the United States. And that is how he will be remembered.

All that is very gratifying, once again proof of the old and comforting maxim that God is not mocked. But even so, it does not excuse the Americans for voting for Bush in 2004 (not that we have anything to be proud of, because we voted for his devoted friend and ally Blair).

Perhaps one can define one by the company one keeps

Prince Charles "poses informally", 'The Times' said, captioning a 60th birthday picture of the heir to the throne dressed up to the nines in his Welsh Guards uniform covered with bits of braid and rows of meaningless medals. If that is informality, one wonders what formality would be like.

Even more surprising was the description of the prince by my 'Independent' colleague Bruce Anderson as an "intellectual". One never knows what exactly constitutes an intellectual, but I like to imagine somebody a bit like Dr Jonathan Miller waving his arms about and quoting from people with foreign names that one has never previously heard of.

Bruce may know better, but Jonathan Miller and the prince would seem to have little in common. My impression of Prince Charles is that he is actually rather an ignorant person. Of course he makes a lot of speeches on semi-intellectual matters – architecture, the prayer book, teaching of history – but these speeches, like those of politicians, are written for him by advisers, some of whom may be intellectuals, though others, such as his favourite guru, the late Sir Laurens van der Post, may be charlatans.

On a visit to the National Theatre, Charles surprised the then director Richard Eyre by not knowing that in Shakespeare's day the female parts were played by boys. On another occasion Sir Alec Guinness was taken aback to be told by Charles that Shakespeare had written 'Macbeth' as a joke. One can think of quite a few words to describe somebody like that, but intellectual would not come high on my list.