Richard Ingrams' Week: Where is our envoy to the Middle East now?

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The Independent Online

It isn't clear whether the Labour Party's chief fundraiser Lord Levy is still Mr Blair's special envoy in the Middle East. But nothing has been said to suggest the contrary, so one wonders why, at this time of crisis, he hasn't been sent out to do a bit of special envoying.

After all, Levy has shown in the past that he has considerable clout in the area. Five years ago, when Ariel Sharon refused to meet the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had made a few cautious remarks in support of the Palestinians, it was Levy who stepped in and brokered a meeting between the two men. Levy also arranged for Straw to meet Shimon Peres, then the Israeli Foreign Minister. To the surprise of many, he actually sat in on their discussion.

People who wonder why this country is so craven in its support of Israel and the USA should ask if it could have anything to do with the fact that Blair's chief fundraiser is an active Zionist well known in Israel and heavily involved with Jewish charities, who in turn relies on other Jewish fundraisers, like Mr Jeff Shear, to secure donations for the Labour Party.

The situation is rather reminiscent of the old Labour Party under Harold Wilson, who likewise relied on wealthy Jewish businessmen for support. In return, Wilson pursued a consistently pro-Israel policy with the support of his loyal secretary Lady Falkender.

Unfortunately for Wilson and Falkender, some of the businessmen involved turned out to be a bit rackety, one of the most prominent, Joseph Kagan, ending up in prison, while another, Sir Eric Miller, committed suicide when awaiting trial.

Kagan was a manufacturer of mackintoshes; Levy's sole claim to fame is that he was once the manager of Alvin Stardust. Like Kagan, Levy has now been arrested. He must hope that there the similarity will end.

The grammar of materialism

Tom Wicksom, an English teacher at Harrow, has deplored the low standard of spelling and grammar among his GCSE candidates. Basic standards of written English, he says, are nowadays needed to get jobs.

"The important thing to emphasise to these pupils is that they are not going to impress potential employers if they cannot write an accurate letter or compose a coherent report."

Why should he be so concerned by this, when his pupils can make sure of correct spelling with the help of spell-checks and when computers are quite capable of turning out an acceptable CV?

The depressing thing is that here is a man who seems to think that the main purpose of writing good, clear English is to be able to write a job application.

Ought we to be surprised that this debased view should be held by a master at a posh public school like Harrow (fees £23,000 a year). I think not. The attitude of most parents who shell out that sort of money is purely materialistic. Ideas about educating boys to be Christian gentlemen, who can write good English because it helps them to think clearly, are absurdly old fashioned. The only point of a good education is to be able to get a good job and earn a lot of money.

* Americans have discovered that if you want to sue somebody for libel, you stand a much better chance of cashing in if you bring an action in this country rather than the US.

The point was proved only recently by the film director Roman Polanski, who sued the magazine Vanity Fair in London and won massive damages.

The latest lucky winner in the libel stakes is the American actress Kate Hudson, left, the daughter of Goldie Hawn, who sued the The National Enquirer - only in England.

Despite the magazine's small circulation in this country, she walked away with what was described as "undisclosed damages".

The libel consisted of an allegation that, as a result of an eating allergy, she was "dangerously thin".

The case reminds me of another actress, Charlotte Cornwell, the half sister of John le Carré, who some years ago sued the Sunday People which had said she was dangerously fat.

As I remember, the actual words complained of were that she had a big bum and couldn't act.

Two lengthy court actions ensued, at the end of which Cornwell was awarded £10,000 damages, though, typically, the vital question of whether her bum was big or not was never made the subject of debate by expert witnesses.

The moral is that if you are an actress you can sue for being either too fat or too thin. But you will have to come to London if you want to cash in.

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