At close of play on Friday, more than a million people had signed the petition to have Tony Blair’s knighthood rescinded. A recent YouGov poll found that just 14 per cent of people approved of him being awarded it, fewer than those who believe the Moon landings were faked. What a comedown for man who, at the height of his popularity, enjoyed a 93% approval rating.

It’s the Iraq War, of course, but not just that. Since stepping down as Prime Minister and setting up his foundations and PR companies, he has made many, many millions from some of the nastiest despots and most oppressive regimes on the planet.

There’s the head-chopping Saudi lot who amputate the hands of thieves and behead in the street, as well as ruthlessly crushing dissent and carrying out the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Blair’s “institute for global change” raked in £9 million for giving advice.

Then there’s Kazakhstan. Blair’s former consultancy firm signed a $13 million deal to advise its government in 2011, months after the last Soviet-style dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev was controversially re-elected with 96% of the vote and weeks before15 peaceful protesters were shot down. On Friday, the new strongman, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said he had given his troops permission to shoot without warnings.

Blair has also been awarded the highest knighthood, the Order of the Garter, which is given at the Queen’s discretion. You made a bad mistake there, Ma’am.

The order is limited to just 24 members. There is also another list, Royal Knights and Ladies Companion, with just eight members, one of whom is Andy, the Duke of York. Someone should start a petition to get him removed from that as well.

Ferrier on trial

It is, of course, possible that the disgraced MP Margaret Ferrier is convinced she is not guilty of wilfully exposing people to “the risk of infection, illness and death”, by allegedly travelling throughout Glasgow and the surrounding areas as well as making journeys to and from London in September 2020 while she had Covid symptoms.

A trial in August, which is scheduled to last five days and will run to tens of thousands on the public purse in legal fees, will decide.

Ferrier, the former SNP MP, has clung to her position despite vociferous calls for her to quit, including from SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon. Ferrier has just said naw!

On Thursday, when she appeared in court to answer the charge, if she had pleaded guilty it would have triggered an inquiry by the parliamentary Committee on Standards. The committee has the power to suspend MPs from the House and any suspension of 10 days or more can trigger a recall petition. If one-in-10 voters in the constituency signs then a by-election is called.

Ferrier has avoided that possibility by opting to go to trial and will continue to receive her £82,000 salary plus expenses.

Absolutely batty

ACCORDING to Novak Djokovic, he knows people that “through the energetically transformation of prayer and power of gratitude” can turn polluted water into “the most healing water” because “molecules in the water react to our emotions in what is being said”. The man doesn’t need quarantined, he needs sectioned.

Just cricket

THAT curious sport which enjoys a disproportionate amount of coverage on BBC News has gone woke. For over a century the chaps who strapped on their pads and boxes before facing a hard red ball hurtling at them at 80mph were referred to as batsmen.

No more. They’re now gender-neutral batters, even although all of the ones furiously contriving to lose the Ashes for England are men.

Women’s cricket has taken off in a way that the inventors of the game could not imagine and it would sound weird to refer to batswomen.

Nonetheless, batters sounds like a slang term Aussies would use. Well, they’re teaching England’s men how to play the game, so why not?

Mysterious mogul

THE author John Preston won the Costa Biography Award last week for his dramatic and fizzing account of the demise of Robert Maxwell, the former press baron and perhaps the greatest crook of the 20th century.

The book is called Fall, subtitled The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, and if it doesn’t solve the enigma, it reports it in all its glorious and gruesome detail.

There have been biographies of Maxwell before but this one reads like a gripping work of fiction. It’s that old saw, a real page-turner. If it isn’t picked up and turned into a TV mini-series I’ll eat my digital copy.

It confirms what we suspected, that the man was also a spy, perhaps a double or even triple agent.

He was funded initially, which kicked off his dizzying rise, by Sir Charles Hambro, the banker and also MI6 spy, who gave him a chequebook and loan facilities of what would be more than £350,000 today, on no collateral –

and the money almost certainly provided by the secret state. Maxwell was their man.

The book goes from horror to hilarity in each chapter, from his humle beginnings as Jan Ludwik Hoch in a desolate and impoverished village in Czechoslovakia, through his rise to the final plunge from his mega-yacht the Lady Ghislaine, named, of course, after the daughter who is now in a New York jail.

Maxwell did meddle fatally with the Scottish Daily News and claimed credit for saving the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, when the truth, a concept alien to him, was that they ran up huge losses.

I mention elsewhere in the paper Japanese businessman Ryoichi Sasakawa, who put in more cash to the games than Maxwell, but the 86-year-old, who claimed to be 27, features in one humorous episode.

In the Second World War, Sasakawa had been the leader of a group of Japanese fascists called the Patriotic People’s Party who wore SS-style uniforms and idolised Hitler.

Sasakawa was jailed as a war criminal but when he was released he made his fortune in gambling on powerboat racing.

He was quoted as saying proudly: “I am the world’s richest fascist.”

Sasakawa spoke no English but was desperate to meet the Queen. Maxwell had an invitation for two to a royal garden party, but it was on the same day that he had to conclude his purchase of the Daily Mirror.

So, the plan was to send his son Ian with Sasakawa. When he turned up he was dressed, not in a suit, but like Samurai, with a long pleated skirt and kimono jacket.

Sasakawa, now a born-again philanthropist, had donated £2m to the NSPC. Fortuitously, he and Ian bumped into the vice-president of the charity, who asked if Sasakawa would like to meet the patron, Princess Margaret.

Very much so. As Maxwell made his introductions to Margaret, the crowd in the Buckingham Palace garden parted and the Queen appears. “Lilibet,” said Margaret, “come and meet Bob Maxwell’s son.”

When Sasakawa saw the Queen he suddenly pitched forward onto the ground and began wailing. Displaying her customary calm, the monarch said only“What have we here?”.Which was quite extraordinarily cool in the circumstances. It can’t have been often she’d seen an 86-year-old former fascist in traditional Japanese prostrate on the ground wailing.

Maxwell explained that it was customary behaviour in Japan when meeting royalty to do this and not look directly.

“He can get up, you know,” the Queen said before moving on.