Richard Ingrams: The public plays a dangerous game with e-petitions


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It would be interesting to know exactly how many innocent people would now be dead if capital punishment had not been abolished in 1964.

My guess is that it would run to about 40 or 50, nearly half of them Irishmen and women wrongly convicted of terrorist offences during the 1970s.

MPs may shortly have to reconsider the merits of capital punishment as a result of David Cameron's gimmicky promise to debate any issue if sufficient people put their names to a petition on the internet. Not surprisingly, the reintroduction of capital punishment has attracted by far and away the most names. And there will now be even more, it is safe to assume, following this week's riots, which have already provoked demands for all kinds of crackdowns, more powers for the police, stiffer sentences, etc, etc.

It's all very well to propose those kinds of things if you have confidence in the authorities from the Prime Minister downwards to enforce them efficiently and fairly. But you can faithfully predict that in the days to come, there will be a regular flow of stories of police brutality, wrongful arrests and false statements by Scotland Yard spokespeople, all of which will undermine Cameron's "get tough" measures just as effectively as previous injustices undermined for ever the case for capital punishment.

Malevolent spirits haunt the internet

The Catholic Church has traditionally warned the faithful to have nothing to do with spiritualism, seances, Ouija boards and the like. The church argues, quite rightly, that there are malevolent forces at work which are known to have caused a great deal of trouble to a great many people over the years.

I hold much the same opinion about the internet which, for all its many advantages is, like the spiritualist world, the haunt of all kinds of crazed voices full of hatred, madness and cruelty. It is, in the words of Mr Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of the search engine Google, "the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experience in anarchy we've ever had".

And it is certainly anarchy that we have seen during the past few days. So if I had to attempt an answer to all the cries of "why oh why?" echoing from all four corners of the media, my instinct would be to blame the internet for giving an outlet and a platform to all kinds of dangerous nutters and extremists who, until the internet was invented, had no means of spreading their particular brands of hatred and poison. Perhaps it is time for Pope Benedict to declare it to be an invention of the devil.

You win, you lose – but you still get paid

The riots are not alone in provoking a chorus of "why oh why?". The pundits are equally busy trying to explain the dismal performance of the Indian cricket team. It is tempting to think we should be grateful to them for enabling England's cricketers to shine at a time when so many other things are making people feel gloomy. But it all seems just a bit too easy. Why oh why are the Indians quite so useless?

An unusual explanation coming from more than one expert on the game is that they are all far too rich for their own good. According to Forbes magazine in 2009, the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni alone is the first cricketer ever to earn $10m a year. Most of his team are also multimillionaires. The suggestion is that with all that money in the bank, who cares too much about winning a Test match in Birmingham?

It's an unusual point because it is seldom made about anyone else – England's football team, for example. And its pertinence is not only limited to sportsmen.

Why should bankers bother about the consequences of their deals if whatever happens they are guaranteed their massive bonuses and pensions to match? Why should all those hugely rich BBC executives, such as Alan Yentob, worry about the quality of the programmes when they are drawing six-figure salaries along with thousands of pounds' worth of expenses – all of it guaranteed by the licence-fee payers?

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