Richard Ingrams' Week: Sadly, Brown is making these fatuous tributes too

Saturday 08 September 2007 00:00

On my occasional visits to my brother Leonard's Garsington Opera, I have noted the regular presence there of Tory politicians – Michael Howard, Douglas Hurd, Lord Heseltine, etc. It is rarely, if ever, that one spots a Labour face.

I was therefore a bit surprised to see Gordon Brown paying a tribute to the famous operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who died this week.

"It's a testimony to his achievement that millions of people will be listening to him in years to come," said the Prime Minister.

As it happens, this was not the only Gordon Brown obituary tribute this week. He was also to be seen on the telly paying his respects to Jane Tomlinson, the cancer victim who took up athletics and heroically cycled across America raising more than £1m for cancer charities.

It was Tony Blair who, after the success of his "people's princess" , decided that when any famous person died the Prime Minister should make a public tribute. This served him well because it suggested that in each case he had some personal interest in the deceased even when he didn't.

Sometimes Blair carried this practice to ridiculous lengths. Thus, when one of the characters in Coronation Street, Deirdre Rashid (now Barlow), was unjustly sent to prison, Blair issued a solemn statement deploring the court's decision and demanding her release.

Some of us were hoping that in the new era of Gordon Brown following the departure of the spin doctors, these rather embarrassing pronouncements would become a thing of the past. But it is looking as if we may have hoped too soon.

It's about time someone spoke out

A new book, The Israel Lobby, by two American professors, John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M W Walt, raises an issue which has been largely and deliberately overlooked in the debate about Iraq.

The professors demonstrate that the American invasion in 2003 not only had the support of Israel but also that the overriding aim of those (mostly Jewish) neocons who were urging Bush to invade was to assist Israel by getting rid of its menacing neighbour Saddam Hussein. The issue was stated quite simply by Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who said prior to the invasion: "When America succeeds in Iraq, Israel is safer." Unfortunately, it didn't work out like that.

Thanks to the power of the Israel lobby in the US, Bush, like all modern American presidents, was and still is under constant pressure to give uncritical support to Israel, whatever that country does. The British Government, on the contrary, is under no such pressure, which makes it all the more shameful that we have tagged along with Bush, not only in Iraq, but more recently in Lebanon.

The more important question is why the issues raised in the Israel lobby are seldom if ever mentioned in relation to the disastrous invasion of Iraq and the subsequent descent of that country into chaos and anarchy.

The only possible explanation is that most politicians and journalists are by now so frightened of being branded anti-Semites by the friends of Israel that they choose not to see the elephant in the room.

Those two professors deserve our thanks for speaking out and for doing it fairly and dispassionately.

* The train company which prosecuted a teenage student, Kathleen Jennings, for putting her feet up on a train seat is insisting that it will continue with its zero-tolerance policy.

This, despite the fact that when the case came to court, the magistrate threw it out urging the train company Merseyrail to be 'less draconian'.

Another company, First Great Western, is adopting a rather different policy on its high-speed trains. Its aim seems to be to make it impossible for passengers to put their feet on the seats, even if they want to.

The company is therefore busy ripping out the seats in its trains and replacing them with seats similar to those on aeroplanes. Arranged in two-by-two formation, they have high backs, nearly all of them face the same way and there is limited leg room.

So if you are in a group of three or four – parents and two children, say – you will now find it hard to sit opposite one another in one of these coaches, unless, that is, you are prepared to travel first class where there will still be plenty of comfort and leg room.

The aim of the new seating arrangement has nothing to do with the comfort and convenience of the passengers. It is simply a way of cramming as many of them as possible on to the train and thus increasing the profits of First Great Western.

Click here for a correction to the above.

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