Richard Ingrams' Week: Say what you want about politicians...

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It has never been easy to interpret what judges are talking about. But a decision by the Law Lords this week appeared to suggest that a newspaper can now defend a libel action by maintaining that it had acted in the public interest, even if what it said turned out not to be true.

The ruling comes too late for some of us. But then libel is not what it was - a terrible threat to editors - but a thriving business from which a very small number of lawyers have made a very large sum of money.

It could be said that the imprisonment of high-profile litigants such as Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken (both convicted of perjury in libel actions) has acted as a powerful deterrent.

Another reason for the decline in libel is the fact that public men are no longer particularly damaged by what the papers say about them. So what's the point of suing?

In the days when the late John Profumo, for example, sued for libel, the penalty for being convicted of lying to the House of Commons was public disgrace followed by resignation and subsequent oblivion. But nowadays the most damning things can be printed about politicians with little apparent effect.

John Prescott, every bit as sexually active as Profumo, remains the Deputy Prime Minister. David Blunkett, who was twice forced to resign from the Home Office, has been paid £400,000 for his memoirs and, according to reports, confidently entertains a hope of getting back into the Cabinet under Gordon Brown. Alastair Campbell appears at the Labour Party conference as bold as brass, as if the death of Dr Kelly had never happened. Piers Morgan, also forced to resign as editor of the Daily Mirror over various irregularities, is invited on the BBC's Question Time to pontificate on the issues of the day.

Why should such men bother with what the press says about them when it makes not a jot of difference to their career prospects?

We should all salute this brave general

Comments from the army chief, General Sir Richard Dannatt, on the situation in Iraq have received massive coverage. His comments on the situation here at home have gone largely unnoticed.

Described as "a committed Christian", the general is concerned about what he calls "the moral and spiritual vacuum" in this country and the effect this has on Muslims. I can't think of any other public figure who has ventured to raise this question. Politicians from Tony Blair downwards - or upwards if you prefer - talk about our way of life, our western values, even our civilisation, as things of which we are proud and which we expect people from other traditions to accept and adapt to.

No one much likes to define too carefully what this wonderful civilisation of ours stands for. Or, if they do, they merely stress positive things, such as the freedoms that women have here in the UK, compared with in Islamic countries.

Integration is called for. But it is quite easy to understand the reluctance, especially of religious people, to integrate too closely in a materialist society obsessed by money, possessions, food, sex and drugs, pounding rock music, Big Brother, lying politicians, The Sun newspaper and so on.

It is not just a matter of failure to integrate. The more things deteriorate along these lines, the greater will be the appeal to young people of extremist religions - fundamentalist Islam and Christianity, not to mention all kinds of dangerous brainwashing cults which seem to offer a refuge and a positive moral code.

No politician of any party will address this problem. Not even church leaders will like to raise the alarm for fear of causing offence. So we ought to give a small cheer of support to General Dannatt for raising his head above the parapet, even if nobody takes too much notice of him.

* With the Government's new anti-ageism regulations, the old have joined those like gay people or Muslims about whom it is dangerous to make jokes.

I predict that it will not be long before the ever-growing number of the obese will be demanding similar privileges.

After ageism will come fattism - and it will be deemed offensive, if not illegal, to make fun of the overweight. Along with all that will come demands from the Obese Community, as it will be called, for wider doors to provide easier access and reserved seats on trains and aeroplanes to accommodate their greater bulk.

This is already happening in America, land of the weird, home of the ridiculous, where an organisation called Naafa (the National Association for Advanced Fat Acceptance) has set up more than 60 "chapters" in different states throughout the United States.

Naafa seeks to promote the message that the obese are not responsible for their condition, which can be caused by heredity or what they call "dieting history". They even discourage the use of the word fat, preferring instead the formula "people of size".

It is usually safe to assume that any daft ideas which are fostered in America will sooner or later take root in this country. So you have been warned.