Richard Ingrams' Week: Want to sell a book? Make people jealous

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The Independent Online

I wonder how many of the great and the good who are currently castigating the former ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, for writing his memoirs are motivated purely by jealousy.

They may thunder away about the appalling betrayal of confidence that has occurred, the breaking of a time-honoured code, but if they were to be honest some of them might have to admit that they were perhaps more than a little envious of the large sums of money that Sir Christopher is likely to make from the sales of his book - sales which have only been boosted by the publicity which they themselves have provided for him free of charge.

Personally I blame the politicians. Most civil servants and diplomats for that matter are by nature and training deferential towards their political bosses, Sir Christopher Meyer being no exception. The same is equally true of those courtiers who serve the Royal Family. Their natural instinct is one of loyalty and discretion.

The temptation for the Prime Minister or the Prince of Wales, to name but two, is to take their loyalty for granted and treat them like dirt. This is what happened to Meyer and it is the underlying theme of his book.

As ambassador in Washington with considerable knowledge and experience of American politics, he thought he was the ideal person to advise Blair on all the ins and outs of policy. Instead of which he was sidelined and snubbed - his reports often ignored - not only by Blair but especially Alastair Campbell, a man with a considerable chip on his shoulder who seems to have thought himself far superior to any toffee-nosed public school prat from the Foreign Office.

Sir Christopher's book is immensely damaging to both men - not to mention Jack Straw. But they have only themselves to blame.

Tories fall for the elixir of youth

The publication of a list of MPs' freelance earnings is as interesting for journalistic as it is for political reasons.

As a member of the National Union of Newspaper Columnists (NUNC) I was surprised to see the large sums that one or two MPs are paid for writing weekly newspaper columns, eg Boris Johnson £75,000, Michael Gove £60,000.

Whether the readers are getting good value for money is open to question, as MPs are obviously restricted by what they can or cannot say about the issues of the day. But at the same time the union cannot ignore the fact that they may be keeping good public-spirited journalists out of a job. As it happens I am not in any position to complain, being one of the lucky few still able to find employment at the venerable age of 68.

What seems strange about the Government's latest proposals on pensions is the assumption that men and women told to work until they are 67 will be in a position to do so. How will it be possible, when we live in a society that regards anyone over 50 as pretty well senile?

If you want proof of that tendency, consider the current goings-on in the Conservative Party. The two most able and experienced candidates for the leadership, Malcolm Rifkind and Kenneth Clarke, were the first to be dumped - largely on the grounds that they were far too old. The party is now about to elect as its leader a hitherto obscure Old Etonian, David Cameron, because he is not only considered "compassionate" but more importantly because he is young.

But the Tories are not unusual in this regard. They are simply acting in accordance with what everyone else is doing, thus showing that, however daft they may seem, they are in line with all the latest modern trends.

* Once courted by all the highest in the land, Conrad Black, former owner of the Telegraph newspapers, now finds himself charged with fraud on a massive scale. Just like Robert Maxwell in other words.

Fraud is not the only thing Black has in common with Maxwell. Although he made his money from newspapers he always tended to despise journalists. There was a famous occasions when Maxwell, presiding at a dinner for his Daily Mirror staff, suddenly decided that all of them had had enough to eat and ordered the waiters to take away their half-filled plates.

Conrad Black frequently spoke of journalists with total contempt. Many had left-wing opinions but almost all of them were in his view neurotic, if not actually mad. At least Maxwell for all his grotesque ways was a great comic figure about whom many funny stories can still be told. But one of the reasons why it is difficult, if not impossible to feel sorry for Conrad Black as he faces the possibility of a long jail sentence is that he is insufferably pompous.

I only met him once when I was writing a biography of Malcolm Muggeridge, whom he had known quite well. But Black wanted only to tell me all about himself and to show off his knowledge of history with special reference to Cardinal Newman.

Winston Churchill's daughter Mary Soames had a similar experience when introduced to Black, who proceeded to tell her at considerable length why he considered her father to have been a very great man. Lady Soames later described Black as "the biggest bore in London"; it was a better assessment than all the accolades bestowed on him by the likes of Margaret Thatcher.

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