Richard Ingrams' Week: On the crest of a wave or merely swept out to sea?

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The Independent Online

"Robin's disappeared and that's that. The tide comes up the beach, the world goes on and we should remember that. It is a salutary lesson." Thus David Blunkett on the resignation from the Cabinet of the former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The world goes on with or without Robin Cook. But if it is a salutary lesson it is not one that Blunkett himself seems to have learned. The tide comes up the beach and we see a bedraggled, bearded figure struggling to get a grip on the shingle before he is swept out to sea. The tide comes in again and still Mr Blunkett (for it is he) fights desperately to make it to dry land. But all in vain.

Blunkett's latest attempt to escape the oblivion to which he heartlessly consigned his colleague Robin Cook takes the form of a massive doorstopper of a diary chronicling his years in the Blair government.

The book is steeped in self-pity and the author takes many a swipe along the way at the media for helping to bring about his downfall. "Lord help me," he laments, "what has happened to basic standards of factual accuracy?" Unfortunately for Blunkett, he now finds himself facing the same charge - more damaging to someone who has occupied one of the most senior positions in the Government.

Martin Narey, formerly director general of the Prison Service, was so outraged by Blunkett's distorted account of the riot at Lincoln Prison in 2002 that he went public last week with the truly extraordinary story of the night the Home Secretary instructed him to order the machine-gunning of the rioting prisoners.

Not only that. Narey showed that Blunkett's self-justifying version could not have been written at the time, because he describes him as occupying a post which he did not take up till the following year. Such a distortion casts doubt on the reliability of the book as a whole. With little demand for the book perhaps this time Blunkett will finally be swept out to sea and forgotten.

There goes another personal freedom

One of the few advantages of being an MP or a member of the House of Lords is that you can get up in Parliament and say whatever you like with complete impunity. Your words are deemed to be "privileged", therefore absolving you from any unpleasant legal repercussions.

Exactly the same is true of the witness box in a court of law. I have myself experienced the heady feeling when giving evidence of complete freedom to say whatever I liked about certain of my fellow human beings. What's more, your remarks, whether in Parliament or in court, can be printed in the paper the following day and nothing can be done to stop it.

With the trend to curb our freedom I am not sure if this is any longer the case. We already have a situation when a growing number of people cannot be named "for legal reasons" - though these reasons are seldom spelled out.

This week Lord Campbell-Savours, a member of the House of Lords, named a woman who had repeatedly made false accusations of rape which had resulted in a man being unjustly imprisoned. Lord Campbell-Savours named the woman in a House of Lords speech and it was later printed in Hansard and so can presumably be read on the internet. However, the Press Association, after taking legal advice, left the name out of its report.

So, we seem to have a bizarre situation in which women who make false accusations have the right to anonymity, while the press would seem to be inhibited from printing everything that is said in Parliament.

* Anyone with experience of divorce (which nowadays includes a lot of us) will have paid little attention to the huge list of charges made by Heather Mills against her husband Paul McCartney.

It was wrong for the Daily Mail to print the list over several pages this week not because it was an intrusion but because, as an account of what went on in their marriage, it was a highly suspect document, or one that at least needed to be taken with several pinches of salt.

Some people may have thought it a damning indictment of the former Beatle which may have been leaked to the press by his wife's supporters - although I am inclined to think the opposite. The motive of whoever made these accusations public was to make Heather Mills look silly. Who knows, it might even have been one of Paul McCartney's lawyers. How seriously can you take a woman who complains in a solemn document that her husband refused to buy her an antique bedpan as otherwise she would have to crawl to the toilet during the night when he was asleep?

I have entertained serious doubts about Heather Mills ever since she claimed in an attempt to get into television to be my friend, the journalist also called Heather Mills, once a reporter on this paper and now on Private Eye. This was not a practical joke. It was a piece of trickery which showed that Heather Mills was not living in the real world. Sooner or later the deception was bound to be discovered and she would be discredited, as happened.

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