Richard Ingrams' Week: Is this the diagnosis for the condition called 'Blair'?

Saturday 22 March 2008 01:00 GMT

An observant doctor watching Tony Blair on TV noticed how at one point his hairline appeared to have moved forward but then later seemed to move back again.

He speculated that Blair might have been using an anti-baldness preparation called Regaine before being cautioned by his doctor that Regaine triggers a heart condition.

Dr David Owen, to whom we owe this interesting theory, speculates in a new book that Blair's heart condition could have been partly responsible for his messianic mood while he was in office, which led to the invasion of Iraq five years ago. As a former doctor at St Thomas' Hospital, Owen is better qualified than most of us to make such a diagnosis. But tempting as the Regaine theory might be, the doctor dismisses it. He plumps in the end for a diagnosis that goes back to the days of ancient Greece – the old idea of hubris.

It makes more sense. In recent years we have seen the effects of staying too long in power on two individuals, Thatcher and Blair. And they both end up in exactly the same state: convinced of the rightness of their judgement, not bothering to listen to what others are telling them, finally baffled and indignant when their colleagues turn against them.

The joke on this occasion is that David Owen, as well as being a doctor, has personal experience of what the calls the "hubris syndrome". In 1981 he famously broke away from the Labour Party, helping to set up the SDP which, after some initial success, gradually melted away and was absorbed into the Liberal Democrats.

Many put the blame for the demise of the SDP on the arrogance and vanity of Dr Owen – hubris in other words. And in his case there is no possible excuse about Regaine. Because, whatever his failings, the doctor has always had a fine head of hair.

Saga of the McCanns is not yet over

The libel lawyers Carter-Ruck, famous for their aggressive tactics and huge fees, have won another victory. Only recently they were in receipt of a £30,000 cheque from the Government for services rendered to the House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin. This week their clients Kate and Gerry McCann won the jackpot when the Daily Express paid them half a million pounds for a series of libels concerning their daughter Madeleine. Based on the Speaker case, one can safely assume that the Carter-Ruck bill of costs will run to six figures at least.

No one can feel too sorry at the thought of Express owner Richmond Desmond, who has made a huge fortune out of pornography, having to shell out a fraction of his profits to the needy McCanns. All the same, the story is puzzling. The Express was undoubtedly guilty of libel. But the suggestion that the McCanns might have been in one way or another responsible for their daughter's death did not originate with the newspaper. It was the Portuguese police who long ago branded the McCanns as suspects. And officially they remain so. It has never been explained why they were so convinced of the McCanns' guilt when all the facts seem to point the other way.

But, following this week's libel settlement, there was general agreement that as a result of the Daily Express apology the McCanns had finally been cleared. But that isn't so. They are still officially labelled arguido, or suspects. The Portuguese police are even anxious to re-interview the McCanns' friends, the so-called Tapas Nine. So all those who were hoping they had heard the last of this story are likely to be disappointed.

* Cab drivers are a notoriously stroppy group of individualists. So it is not surprising that in Bournemouth they are boycotting a council course to teach them how to behave. The course, which includes a written test, advises drivers on how to lift a heavy suitcase, how to read body language and even how to say hello. Cabbies will also be asked if they can "recognise emotions such as anger, worry or annoyance".

None of this will cut any ice with your average cabbie, who will remain impervious to the feelings of his passengers. The passenger is likely to register annoyance first when he sees the notices telling him not to smoke and reminding him of his legal obligation to wear a safety belt. He may be further annoyed by the cabbie's loud radio tuned to a local station broadcasting a mindless phone-in, usually to do with football. Either that or jungle music from Radio 1. Further annoyance may result from the flashing advertisements on a miniature TV screen, many of which are now installed in London cabs.

My friend Willie Rushton once did a cartoon of a cabbie sitting behind a notice which said "Thank you for not interrupting" that was inspired by the habit of many cabbies to give you their views about the political situation, often from an extreme right-wing perspective.

This can well cause annoyance. But something more than annoyance may ensue from the cabbie choosing the wrong route and the resulting huge fare. This in turn may result from his having talked non-stop on his mobile and consequent lack of concentration.

No amount of tests or courses is going to change the cabbie because that is the way he is made. And, despite all my reservations, I would not have it otherwise.

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