Richard Ingrams' Week: What's the small matter of an arrest between friends?


A month ago I asked whether Lord Levy, the central figure in the sale of peerages scandal, was still carrying out his duties as the Prime Minister's special envoy in the Middle East.

My instinct was that a man who had recently been arrested by the police would be unlikely to be involved in a very public position at a critical moment for the peace of the world.

I was wrong. It was reported in this paper two days ago that Levy, famous as the one-time manager of Alvin Stardust and other B-list pop singers, has been very active in his envoy role in the past months, making frequent visits to Israel and even holding talks with the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

According to our report, Levy's role as an alleged seller of honours on behalf of Mr Blair has "no bearing on his role in the Middle East". Israeli politicians would probably agree. They have come to expect that those with close connections with our Labour Party are not likely to be saintly, whiter-than-white figures.

Harold Wilson's financial backer Lord Kagan, later imprisoned for fraud, was a welcome visitor to the Holy Land when he did a runner to escape from the attentions of the police.

Another rich man who helped to bankroll Labour was Robert Maxwell. Early in his business career Maxwell had been officially dubbed unfit to run a public company, and he is now recognised as an out-and-out crook.

Israelis, however, continued to treat him with enormous respect. When he died and was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the leader of the Israeli Labour Party, Shimon Peres, now the Deputy Prime Minister, hailed the late press lord as "not a man but an empire in his power, thought and deed".

Lord Levy must hope that when his time comes he may earn similar plaudits.

Another fine mess they've got us into

The last public figure to make the headlines in connection with the word "crap" was the business tycoon Gerald Ratner, who used it to describe the merchandise on sale in his chain of jewellery shops.

To some of us his comments came as a breath of fresh air - a retailer for once being honest about the quality of his stock. But from Ratner's point of view it was a disaster. He was forced to resign in disgrace, and his business collapsed.

Will the same fate befall John Prescott, who earlier this week used the identical expression to describe America's Middle East policy adding, for good measure, that George Bush was nothing but a cowboy? But if Bush is a cowboy, the same must go for his faithful friend and ally Tony Blair, Prescott's boss.

For myself, I prefer to see Bush and Blair not as cowboys but as Laurel and Hardy - a couple of bungling clowns moving serenely from one fine mess to another.

They have reduced one Middle Eastern country, Iraq, to a hell on earth. And now they have lent their support to the disastrous Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which has left another country a heap of rubble with hundreds of its people dead and thousands more homeless. With the aim of defeating terrorism, they have succeeded only in securing countless new recruits for assorted terrorist organisations.

A fine mess indeed. And the alarming thing is that neither of the two comics shows the slightest awareness of the chaos they have caused.

* Full-page advertisements by the British Airport Authority have been advising air travellers about what they can or cannot take on to planes in their hand baggage. They may be left feeling more confused than before.

Thus they are told: "any liquids and gels" now have to be packed in their luggage for the hold. But at the same time they will be able to take on board liquid and gels that they buy in the departure lounge. And they will in future be allowed to take a single piece of hand baggage on board, but it must measure no more than 16 x 35 x 45cm.

It may not be just oldies like myself (69 today) who will be left wondering how they are going to apply these measures to the shapeless holdall which some of us like to carry around. In any case, which measurement applies to which bit of the luggage?

The BAA announcement concludes: "Thank you for your continued patience and understanding."

This particular formula - especially the use of the word continued - is designed to make punters feel good about themselves.

It seeks to obscure the possibility that a great many of them will be experiencing not patience, but frustration, acute depression and possibly even intense anger about the delays, the cancellations and now the new baggage regulations introduced by BAA.

And if they are feeling anger - even continued anger - already, they may be likely to feel it even more so on being thanked for their patience by an impersonal advertisement.

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