Richard Ingrams' Week: A great wall of silence

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Nor did I see anything to suggest that Mr Blair, who no doubt had other things on his mind, raised the awkward question of civil rights in China with his distinguished visitor, pictured right.

Even if I had, I doubt very much if I would necessarily have believed it. When Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, paid a similar state visit to Britain in 1999, the press was told that Blair had raised the civil rights issue and this was duly reported in all the papers.

However, Clare Short, who was at the Downing Street meeting, writes in her book An Honourable Deception that Blair did nothing of the kind. It was a lie, in other words. Some people think that Blair is a calculating and shameless liar whereas I tend to think that, like all those who are corrupted by power, he has long ceased to be able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood.

He was plainly unaware last week of how similar his remarks were to those with which he took us to war in 2003. Then, too, we were faced by a deadly peril. Today it was terrorism on the streets, then it was Saddam and his WMD. Solemn warnings had been provided in 2003 by the intelligence services; two years later by the police chief. He, Blair, was doing what he thought was right, even if it meant upsetting a lot of people who thought otherwise.

So it went on. But Blair seemed quite unaware of the significance of what he was doing - oblivious, likewise, of the famous story of the little boy who cried wolf.

Q. Scissor Sisters or Coldplay? A. Who cares?

There is an old story about the High Court judge who asked: "Who are the Beatles?" I doubt if there ever was such a judge. But the remark was a useful one if you wanted to show how generally out of touch High Court judges tend to be.

Nowadays my tendency would be to side with that judge whether he ever existed or not. That is because it has become almost obligatory to be familiar with all the latest pop groups and their songs. Not to mention those of the past: witness the questions of University Challenge where contestants are expected to know all about the long-forgotten pop songs of yesteryear.

Last week when the two contestants for the Conservative Party leadership, David Davis and David Cameron, were interviewed by Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, left, they were asked about a number of their preferences.

Who would they choose between the following: Scissor Sisters or Coldplay?

That is the kind of thing the BBC obviously thinks is important when it comes to deciding who should be the leader of one of our main political parties.

As it happened, both men gave the same answer - Coldplay - leaving me wondering if either of them had the faintest idea of what they were talking about.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if one day a politician, asked that kind of question by the BBC, were to say that he had no preference either way, that he had never heard of either the Scissor Sisters or Coldplay, and that, in any case, he regarded all pop music as pretty much worthless rubbish.

Like that mythical judge, he would no doubt become a national figure of fun. But he might get my vote.

* It is hard to feel other than warm-hearted towards someone who finds you sufficiently interesting to make you the subject of a full-length book.

As it happens I was always very well disposed towards my biographer Harry Thompson, who died from cancer last week at the age of only 45. I felt even better disposed when his book turned out not to be the demolition job that many of my colleagues had been secretly hoping for but a generally sympathetic account of my life and times.

Not that Harry was able to keep his satirical spirit wholly in check. When he commissioned Willie Rushton to do a portrait of me for the book's cover his instructions were "Make him look mad". Willie was happy to oblige.

When it came to madness Harry was at least my equal. He used to keep a Vietnamese pig in his London flat, and on the day of my daughter's wedding at a posh London church I came across him burying a pet rat in the churchyard, marking the grave with a little wooden cross.

It always seems odd when showbusiness folk describe what they do as "work". I spent many happy hours at BBC Broadcasting House with Harry, not only doing The News Quiz but also a couple of series of Beachcomber along with John Wells, John Sessions, Patricia Routledge and the BBC's finest newsreader, Brian Perkins.

Whatever we were doing, it certainly didn't feel like work. We were just fooling around and having a lot of fun.

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