Richard Ingrams' Week: A tale of two damaged and discredited leaders

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When George Bush was re-elected in 2004, I took some comfort from the fact that, as time went on, the more chickens would be coming home to roost.

To a great extent, my hopes have been confirmed. Bush has lost control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the situation in Iraq grows worse every day and he is now a more unpopular president even than Richard Nixon.

I am glad to say the same sort of thing has happened to our own Mr Blair. The difference is that Blair could have avoided it all to a great extent by resigning shortly after his third election victory in 2005.

Instead of which, corrupted by power and convinced that he was indispensable, he chose to soldier on. Perhaps he hoped that, as time went on, people would begin to forget all about Iraq. Instead, with more and more of our servicemen being killed and injured (not forgetting the thousands of Iraqi civilians), Iraq loomed ever larger. And the worse things got, the greater seemed the blunder of getting involved with Bush's crazy scheme in the first place.

When sorrows come, Shakespeare reminds us, they come not single spies but in battalions. And so it proved for Blair. Blunkett sank without trace, Prescott became a laughing stock and then came the greatest humiliation of all - police knocking at the door of Number 10 as they pursued their inquiries into the apparent sale of peerages, the first time in history that a serving prime minister has been questioned by the police.

The consequence of all this is that, whenever Blair finally does leave the stage, he will limp off to a chorus of boos and catcalls. This gratifying prospect is some small consolation for the terrible damage done by Blair to Britain's standing in the world.

Real ale, real journalism

My friend and neighbour, Richard Boston, who has died, was one of those journalists who could be given almost any assignment and make a funny and fascinating piece about it. Exceptionally well read in many different fields, he had the rare ability to review just about any book with an air of authority.

He achieved fame of a kind in the early 1970s when he became one of the champions of Real Ale. It was partly as a result of this that he came to live in my village of Aldworth in 1974, having discovered a pub in nearby Goring- on-Thames where they served a rare and real brew.

Despite all the talk of real ale, I have to say that, if ever I saw Richard in the village pub, he was usually drinking something stronger.

Hoping to rent in the neighbourhood, he was delighted to find a thatched cottage being advertised by Ann Scott James, then living with Osbert Lancaster, whom she later married. Richard had always been an admirer of Osbert's, and he later spent years labouring over a biography of the great man.

As Osbert's memory grew hazy, this became a more and more difficult task. There was a famous occasion when Osbert bumped into Richard outside the village shop and asked him how he was getting on "with the book you're writing about that chap".

* By 2012, according to one report yesterday, the BBC's licence fee will have risen to £148.05 - this being in line with the Treasury's new policy of limiting any increases at below the rate of inflation.

It will occur to few people to think that, by 2012, there might not be a licence fee at all. It certainly will not occur to the people running the BBC, who have been lobbying the Government for a much higher increase and who would like a licence fee in the region of £180.

Operating for the most part from expensive offices cut off from ordinary life, the people running the BBC seem to have little awareness of just how shabby its image has become. They seem quite unaware of the damage done recently by the revelation of the huge salaries paid out to second-rate disc jockeys on Radio 1 or equally second-rate chat show hosts like Jonathan Ross, left.

What is the effect when the BBC's chairman, Michael Grade, jumps ship after only three years in order to earn even more money as boss of ITV? What are people supposed to think when the corporation's so-called Director of Vision, Jana Bennett, calls for "skyscraper projects" with "a multi-platform aspect"?

Sooner or later, some of our aspiring politicians keen on tax cuts are going to see the electoral advantages of calling for the abolition of the licence fee. After all, it would save the taxpayer £130 a year and so would make a popular rallying cry. It could even happen before 2012.

theoldie@theoldie.co.uk

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