Saturday 19 December 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: Who says we just want entertainment, Sir John?
As a lifelong lover of personal abuse and vituperation, I read with great delight this week's article in The Times headed "Intoxicated by power, Blair tricked us into war" by Sir Ken Macdonald QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Blair's fundamental flaw, Macdonald charged, was his "sycophancy towards power... Washington turned his head and he couldn't resist the stage or the glamour that it gave him".
As for Blair's constant refrain that he did only what he thought was right – "This is a narcissists' defence and self-belief is no answer to misjudgement".
And it wasn't only Blair that Macdonald was targeting. The members of the Chilcot inquiry were not in his view the sort of people who were likely to want to rock the boat. "The position of the inquiry panel is uncertain," he wrote. "So far its questioning has been unchallenging."
Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues have had a pretty bad press to date, but I don't imagine that anything written by mere journalists will have been causing them sleepless nights.
On the other hand, it may well have been this attack from a former DPP that goaded Chilcot to come out a few days later and say that his inquiry was a very a serious affair. "We are not here," he said, "to provide public sport or entertainment."
But nobody had suggested that. All Macdonald was concerned with was the possibility that Chilcot and his mates, being the kind of people they are, would fail to do their duty, as so many others like them have failed in the past.
It all points to the madness of flying
So yet another airline, the Scottish company Flyglobespan, has gone bust, leaving thousands of travellers stranded overseas.
Meanwhile, British Airways travellers who might have been stranded at home over Christmas are rejoicing at the cancellation of the cabin crews' strike. But strike or no, the fact is that BA is reported to have lost £400m last year and is forecast to lose a further £600m in 2009.
Air travel provides one of the great mysteries of the modern world. The world's airlines exist in a state of permanent crisis, with frequent takeovers, mergers and bankruptcies.
Meanwhile, the experience of air travel, once considered the most glamorous way of getting around, has become a bit of a nightmare, involving long queues, long delays, lost baggage, pointless security checks, mile-long treks to the departure gates and on the plane itself acute discomfort and – coming soon – mobile phones.
But even though it is nowadays under fire from climate-change campaigners, the Government continues to insist that air travel is on the increase, that they have to accept that it appeals to more and more travellers and therefore that plans must be made for greater and greater expansion, even in particular another runway at Heathrow to preserve the airport's status as a "hub" – though what exactly that means has never been made clear.
Is there some kind of sinister conspiracy at work here? Or is it just another indication of the fact that we live in a very mad world?
History repeats itself
Like father, like son. Mr Zac Goldsmith's career to date has many echoes of his late father's, Sir James Goldsmith being another very rich man with a taste for beautiful women and gambling who also fancied the political life. Just as Zac has made friends with David Cameron, Sir James cultivated the Tory leader Edward Heath, handing him a generous donation of £100,000 to boost the party funds.
Political scandal runs in Zac's blood. His father came to grief when his name appeared on Lady Falkender's famous Lavender List and he was deprived of the peerage he had been hoping to get.
At the same time, Zac's mother Lady Annabel's family tree includes such figures as Lord Londonderry, dammed for his appeasement of leading Nazis in the 1930s. Even further back we find the famous figure of Lord Castlereagh, the great statesman who cut his own throat in 1821, allegedly while suffering from a fit of depression. However, in his book The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh, the late H Montgomery Hyde suggests that Castlereagh was being blackmailed over a chance encounter with a transvestite prostitute.
Lord Castlereagh lived in those bad old days when very rich men could simply buy their way into Parliament. But Zac Goldsmith gave £264,000 for the notional use of office and staff to the Conservatives of Richmond which he hopes to represent in Parliament. So it doesn't look as if anything has changed very much.
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