Richard Ingrams' Week: Another decisive move from the Foreign Secretary

Saturday 07 June 2008 00:00

When possible successors to Gordon Brown are discussed, as frequently happens these days, the name of David Miliband is the one most often mentioned.

It is hard to see why this should be so – unless it is that Miliband is young, quite tall and seems to be the same sort of person as David Cameron or Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

A senior citizen such as myself, however, may prefer the description of Mr Miliband by maverick Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews - "A pillock on his gap year" – not forgetting the witty sketch-writer Quentin Letts who once said Miliband reminded him of "a trainee manager at the Grand Hotel in Brighton".

Whatever Miliband's credentials as a political leader may be, it is perhaps a good thing that he is the Foreign Secretary, if only because it helps to remind people that the British Foreign Secretary is nowadays a completely insignificant figure. The lesson is brought home even more forcibly when Miliband summons the media as he did on Thursday to make some comments on the detention at gunpoint of some British diplomats in Zimbabwe.

"I think this gives us a window into the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans," Miliband announced, as if it wasn't until British diplomats were manhandled by Mugabe's thugs that people had been made aware of the kind of terrible things that are going on in Zimbabwe.

What is he going to do about it? Or what can he do about it? If the answer to both questions is nothing, as it seems to be, it might be better for him to remain silent.

Mosley will never shake off the armband

FIA president Max Mosley, currently striving to live down lurid allegations about his private life, is not a very prepossessing individual, so it is curious that he was given such an overwhelming vote of support (103 to 55) by his colleagues at this week's FIA meeting.

The FIA had hired Anthony Scrivener QC to look into the allegations and it could be that the lawyer successfully persuaded the delegates that Mosley had been unfairly stitched up by the News of the World when it published lengthy details of his participation in an orgy with a group of prostitutes. Mosley admits that the orgy took place but denies that it had what are called "Nazi overtones" – the girls wearing swastika armbands etc.

People may consider such details irrelevant, but from the point of view of the News of the World they were of vital importance because they not only spiced up the story but gave the paper a good excuse to bring in Mosley's father, the fascist leader Sir Oswald, and make outraged comments about his friend Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust and other matters.

Was it true about these so-called Nazi overtones? Perhaps it was. But even if it wasn't, would the paper have reason to fear proceedings? After all, if a man is caught out attending an orgy, can he afford to complain about the costumes the participants were falsely alleged to be wearing?

It reminds me a little of the story of one-time Tory heritage minister David Mellor, who was exposed by a tabloid paper some years ago engaged in an adulterous affair with an actress called Antonia de Sancha. The paper claimed that Mellor wore a Chelsea football club strip when making love – a detail that Mellor, like Mosley, vigorously denied. But that was what spiced up the story and that was probably the only thing that people can now remember about it.

* On 1 April this year, I had a call on the answering machine from the producer of Desert Island Discs, Jane Thurlow, inviting me to appear on the programme. My initial response – wrong, as it turned out – was that it must be an April Fool, especially as I had already made my selection of eight favourite records way back in 1971.

In those days the presenter was the creator of the programme, Roy Plomley. Plomley, an old-fashioned interviewer of the deferential school, took me out to lunch at his club prior to the recording. The disappointing thing was that they didn't play the music during the interview. It was all fitted in afterwards, making the experience a bit flat.

This has now changed, as I discovered when I was interviewed by the programme's latest compere, the delightful Kirsty Young. The music is played, though, as Kirsty explained, it can sometimes be an emotional business. Audible sobbing has been known to occur.

Desert Island Discs, particularly in the hands of a skilful and sympathetic interviewer such as Kirsty Young, remains a brilliant formula as the choice of music often reveals more about a person than anything that he or she may say. Plomley always claimed to have thought up the idea, which he said came to him as a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night in November 1941. In fact he almost certainly lifted it from a jazz magazine called Rhythm which ran a regular feature which was titled "Desert Island Discs" and in which readers named their favourite six records.

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