Richard Ingrams' Week: Blair is the Harold Wilson of our times

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The Independent Online

By one of those strange coincidences that make up the rich tapestry of life, there is a sudden interest in Harold Wilson just at the same time as Tony Blair is beginning to look more and more like him.

After Francis Wheen's BBC4 play The Lavender List, we have had another BBC play this week by Barrie Penrose of The Pencourt File fame with yet another actor, James Bolam, impersonating the pipe-smoking Wilson.

Wilson's departure in 1976 coincided with a flurry of scandals culminating in the famous Lavender List of honours which included the names of a number of dodgy businessmen, for example the property tycoon Sir Eric Miller who later committed suicide when facing arrest. Marcia Williams, who was responsible, wrote to The Times denying any part in the making of the list and accusing her critics of anti-Semitism.

The difference between Wilson and Blair is crucial. Wilson had realised for some time that he might be losing his marbles and feared the onset of Alzheimer's. He therefore made the sensible decision to resign on reaching the age of 60.

Blair on the other hand, concerned about his so-called legacy, seems determined to soldier on for as long as possible. But the result is inevitable. The longer he stays, the worse it will look for him. There will be more Labour revolts in Parliament, more revelations of sleaze. So that when he finally goes it will be to the accompaniment of jeers and catcalls and most likely not at the time of his own choosing.

Everyone can see this, except, apparently, for Blair himself.

The truth behind both these 'tragedies'

I make it a rule to be suspicious of businesses with a capital letter in the middle of their name. The latest to hit the headlines is an obscure German company TeGenero responsible for manufacturing the drugs which have resulted in terrible injuries to those men they were tested on at Northwick Park Hospital.

One should likewise beware when spokesmen of any species refer to something like this as "a tragedy" as they have been doing since the story became public. The same word was used only the other day by Mr Blair in reference to the police shooting last year of Mr Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station.

The intention of those who use this word is to make us think that what has happened is somehow an unfortunate occurrence brought about by circumstances beyond the control of mortal men.

Invariably it is no such thing. The shooting of Mr de Menezes was the result of extreme and possibly criminal incompetence on the part of a number of policemen.

Likewise the injuries suffered by those human guinea pigs at Northwick Hospital may be the result of medical negligence on a grotesque scale which ought to result in the criminal prosecution of whoever was responsible.

But not if we can be persuaded to think of it all as another tragedy. Left to itself the medical profession will institute an inquiry which will take a long time to report. By that stage the public might have forgotten about the story. They will be reassured that new procedures and guidelines have been put into place to stop anything of the kind happening again. A line will have been drawn under it and we will all move on.

* I have little sympathy with Tory MP Boris Johnson who was knocked off his bicycle in London last week while trying to avoid a group of tourists at a crossing.

Boris, of course, blamed the tourists. But quite apart from his natural bumptiousness, this sort of behaviour is what we have come to expect from the cycling fraternity, many of whom seem to think that the world owes them a living.

While the rest of us get around by smelly old buses, cabs or Tubes, the cyclists like to impress us with their environmental credentials. By creating no pollution, they are selflessly doing their bit to help to save the planet.

In London at least they appear to have been given carte blanche to do whatever they like. They can be seen all over the town pedalling at speed across red traffic signals or at night time whizzing along in the dark without any lights. Whether Boris is guilty on either of these scores I do not know, but I would not put it past him.

The foolhardy, irresponsible behaviour of some of these cyclists exposes the flaw in the way authorities and the media treat the whole question of road accidents.

Accidents are always considered to be the fault of car drivers breaking the speed limit. Dangerous driving is to blame, never dangerous bicycling let alone dangerous jaywalking, a practice to which, I will admit, I myself am dangerously addicted.