Richard Ingrams' Week: The absurd defence of the indefensible

The Independent

Published: 03 June 2006

I presume that during the English Civil War when Cavaliers and Roundheads were fighting battles up and down England, there were large areas of the country where peace continued to reign and where, perhaps, a great many people remained ignorant of the fact that there was a war going on in the first place.

Would Charles I, in those circumstances, seek to reassure the public that the scale of the conflict was being exaggerated when so much of the country was unaffected by it? I ask only because it is this argument that government ministers and their supporters like the ever-faithful William Shawcross try to persuade us that, though things in Baghdad and Basra may be bad, elsewhere the situation is perfectly fine. Talk of a civil war is an unhelpful exaggeration.

Another useful argument regularly deployed when evidence of military atrocities by British or US troops comes to light - as it seems to nowadays on a daily basis - is to insist that only "a tiny minority" of soldiers have erred in this regard.

The Labour MP Ann Clwyd, a woman described as Blair's envoy in Iraq, has throughout this disastrous series of events been steadfastly defending the invasion on behalf of her boss. Last week responding to the Haditha massacre where 24 civilians were mown down by US marines, Clwyd said that it "should not be taken out of context. This is a small group of people out of thousands of soldiers who have done a good job".

Ms Clwyd went on to say that she had met many people on a recent visit to Iraq "and they all say that continuing insecurity is a problem".

It is tempting to make some animadversions on this revelation by the envoy, but you have to be careful nowadays what you say about the Welsh in case the police come knocking at your door.

A pair of unlikely heroes for a Christian

After reading the extracts from his new book Heroes and Contemporaries I find it impossible to take seriously Jonathan Aitken's well-publicised - by himself - conversion to Christianity.

Particularly alien to the Christian ethos is Aitken's eulogy to his two heroes - both now dead - John Aspinall and James Goldsmith.

Aspinall, a lifelong snob who made a fortune from the gambling habits of others, had a contempt for ordinary human beings - what he called "the urban biomass".

He reserved his respect for aristocrats such as the murderer Lord Lucan and animals like his precious tigers and gorillas.

Goldsmith, pictured left, was an equally unpleasant and ruthless individual, as I discovered from my long battle with him in the law courts. It was during this that he resorted to blackmail in order to obtain a false affidavit from a respected London solicitor.

Goldsmith's whole career was devoted to the amassing of vast sums of money and when he died he was a multimillionaire. But there was no evidence that he used his wealth either to help the less well-off or to benefit the human race in any way.

* It used to be accepted by everyone that monopoly (whether of the state or private variety) was a bad thing. Not any longer.

Last week when the takeover of the Ottakars book chain by Waterstones was finally agreed there were quite a lot of people prepared to say that it was a good thing for one and all. One such was the director of the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, Peter Florence, who told this paper that customers would benefit from the merger.

So we now have the situation where HMV owns Waterstones which owns Ottakars. If that isn't a monopoly I don't know what is. One consequence is that Waterstones will be able to exert even greater pressure on publishers than they do at present. Bigger discounts will be demanded and they will even start to dictate to publishers what they should publish, what colour the book jacket should be, etc. This is already happening.

Defenders of the new arrangement are saying that the enlarged Waterstones will now be in a better position to fend off competition from the internet. This is unlikely. Bigger and bigger shops run by poorly paid staffs will become simply places where shelves are rented out to publishers in exchange for large sums. This too is already happening.

It will be harder and harder for anyone looking for a particular book to be able to find it. How much easier and cheaper to go to Amazon on the internet.