Richard Ingrams' Week: From shots in the arm to a shot in the dark

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As one of the vulnerable oldies, I am glad to reassure readers that I have been given my annual flu jab. But thanks to the shortcomings of the Government in the person of Patricia Hewitt, many others have not been so fortunate.

We are often told how valuable it is to our democratic processes to bring businessmen into the Government. It is claimed by their supporters that they bring much-needed expertise to offset the amateur bungling of the full-time politician.

For that reason it may seem curious that on this occasion Mrs Hewitt has not called upon the services of a highly successful businessman with a great deal of experience in this very field, ie the manufacture of flu jabs. He is Lord Drayson of Kensington, a young and thrusting entrepreneur who for many years ran a highly profitable business in the town of Speke on Merseyside producing those very vaccines which are now said to be in such short supply.

But Lord Drayson, who has given more than £1m to the Labour Party - a fact, he assures us, that has nothing to do either with his peerage or his government job - is not employed in the Ministry of Health. He is charged with the equally responsible job of buying weapons and equipment for the British Armed Services.

One possible reason for his redeployment is that his experiences as a manufacturer of flu jabs was by no means successful. The Speke factory was found by American inspectors to be substandard and thousands of jabs ordered by the US government had to be destroyed.

I know all this because the story was told by the BBC's Money Programme a week or so ago. It just seems strange that when invited more than once by the BBC to put his side of this particular story, Lord Drayson steadfastly refused to be involved. One can only hope that his experiences in the armaments business will not give rise to similar unwelcome publicity.

Resigned to making mistakes

The Government's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, has said that he "considered resigning" when his recommendation for a total ban on smoking in all pubs was rejected by ministers. Instead he decided to stay on.

The professor would have been better advised to say nothing about his dilemma. Because people might say that if he felt so very strongly about smokers being banned from pubs he should have resigned. To announce that he considered resigning but didn't only makes him look a bit of twit.

Very few people resign in the modern world because very few people have principles and in any case they need the money. The furthest they are prepared to go is to offer their resignation, having first made sure that the offer will be rejected.

This was where the former director general of the BBC, Greg Dyke, made his mistake. Criticised by the lamentable judge Lord Hutton in his report on the Dr Kelly affair, Dyke offered his resignation to the BBC governors, having received assurances that they would beg him to stay on. Not surprisingly he was put out when his resignation was accepted.

Exceptions to the non-resigning tradition are few. One was Lord Carrington at the start of the Falklands War. Another more recent is Mr Martin Newland, pictured, who resigned as editor of The Daily Telegraph when his management started making editorial appointments without consulting him. The final straw came when he was not allowed to print a leader supporting David Cameron as Tory leader. The fact that yesterday the paper printed just such a leader made the management look even more foolish and discredited than they did before.

* One of the confusing things about the modern world is the way everything is brought forward before it is due to happen. Politicians' speeches, for example, are reported in advance before they are delivered, making it rather uninteresting for the audience, who know beforehand exactly what they are going to say when they finally get around to saying it.

The principle applies in all sorts of other fields. George Best's obituaries were being printed about a fortnight ago when the old boy was still struggling to stay alive. His death, when it came eventually, seemed almost an anti-climax.

You can put most of this down to commercial greed. Newspapers in particular are terrified that their rivals may steal a march on them. Better to get in first, even if it may offend the relatives.

Greed also lies behind the way in which Christmas has been brought forward, thus depriving it of its allure for many of us. It starts in October while the leaves are still on the trees. Cards and decorations are in the shops well before Hallowe'en. Television commercials featuring snowmen and Father Christmas coincide with Bonfire Night which itself starts well before 5 November.

Christmas parties will be starting any day now. Many shops are already promoting their New Year's sale. And the result of all this is that when Christmas Day finally dawns, people will have become bored by the whole idea and will long for it all to be over and done with.

We will soon start to hear the big stores complaining that sales are down and shoppers are staying away. But it is their own fault for being so keen to cash in. The fun has gone out of Christmas.

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