Richard Ingrams' Week: Everything is fine here (just like it is in Iraq)

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The great advantage of being old, said the historian A J P Taylor, is that people think you are past it. Of no one is this truer than Sir David Frost.

With his mouth hanging open, his speech blurred and occasionally incoherent, he gives the impression to viewers that it is high time for him to sign on at the home for distressed gentlefolk.

It was perhaps Mr Blair's assumption that Frost was past it that led him to relax his concentration and let slip that the invasion of Iraq had been a disaster. Another scoop for Frostie, almost on a par with his famous Nixon interview, currently the subject of a West End play.

(And let's all agree that contrary to some accounts Blair did not "appear" to say that the invasion was a disaster. It was Frost who first advanced the view that it was a disaster. Blair then agreed with him. "It was," he concurred. There was no appearing about it.)

Of course Blair had simply acknowledged something that pretty well everybody in the world is agreed about. But such is his compunction to insist, against all the evidence, that two and two make five that he issued a flurry of so-called clarifications which only made it all look worse.

It is not only Blair who is in the habit of maintaining that things are going very well when everybody can see that they aren't.

What's all the fuss about mixed-sex wards in hospitals? According to the Government, there aren't any. The Health Minister Rosie Winterton announced in Parliament this week that 99 per cent of hospitals now provide single-sex accommodation for all. Everything is fine, just like it is in Iraq. So fine, that according to Mrs Beckett, we can now talk about withdrawing our troops.

Masters of the monopoly game

Does anybody think that an ITV controlled by Rupert Murdoch would be in any way different from one controlled by Richard Branson? Branson is currently fighting to prevent Murdoch from adding to his vast media empire by acquiring a major shareholding in the down-market independent television company.

An expert at PR, Branson parades in the papers as a British-born patriot fighting a David-like battle against the sinister Australian Goliath Murdoch.

In practice he is in exactly the same line of business as the Dirty Digger, ie monopolies. His massive business empire growing all the time includes Virgin planes, Virgin Trains, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Books, Virgin Jewellery - you name it and Beardie will own it. So why not Virgin TV to add to the list?

ITV, most people are agreed, is slowly going down the drain; the standard of its programmes is even lower than the BBC's, which is saying something. At the moment it does not even have a chief executive. But with his fingers in so many different pies and no experience of running a TV company, how could Branson possibly hope to redeem the situation?

So there isn't really much to choose between Murdoch and Branson. The only thing to be said in Murdoch's favour is that he is 75 and therefore cannot be with us for all that much longer. Beardie on the other hand is only 56 and, judging from appearances, is horribly fit and well.

* In London's Tottenham Court Road, the Scientologists have for many years maintained a recruiting centre, inviting young people in off the street to be given what they call a stress test and be told about their inadequacies which membership will be able to cure (with the help of a large cheque).

Recently the movement, misleadingly described as a church, opened a new branch in the City of London at a reported cost of £24m. And, surprisingly, the opening ceremony was attended by a senior policeman, Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley, described as having responsibility for "faith issues". Even more surprisingly, the Chief Superintendent went on to describe Scientology, founded by the convicted fraudster L Ron Hubbard, "a force for good".

It now emerges that Scientology has established very close relationships with other senior officers. There have been invitations lavish charity dinners where the guest of honour has been the deluded film star Tom Cruise, himself a devoted follower.

The motive is quite plain: to acquire influence with the police and hopefully to recruit officers in the same way that the Freemasons have done over the years.

Some people may find all this far-fetched. But when a senior policeman can describe Scientology as "a force for good", alarm bells should start to ring.

theoldie@theoldie.co.uk

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