Richard Ingrams' Week: Our distorted priorities are ruining the economy

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The Independent Online

The price of food is rocketing up while the price of housing is beginning to rocket down. The strange thing is that both the up and the down are considered to be serious cause for concern.

You might think that if not having enough money to buy food is considered a disaster, then not being able to afford a roof over your head must run it a close second.

But that isn't the way we look at it in this country. Read the papers, listen to the TV commentators and you will notice that to a man or to a woman they all of them regard a fall in the value of houses as not just a worrying factor in itself but something that adversely affects the welfare of our economy as a whole.

The logic of such a consensus is that we ought to be happy if houses go on getting more and more expensive, with a resulting growth in the economy and the general prosperity of all.

Perhaps economists sincerely believe this. But to the lay observer it looks like madness. It also ignores the practical consequences of saddling couples with a massive amount of debt, forcing them to spend the rest of their lives working themselves to the bone in order to repay it.

This is already happening, but there are apparently large numbers of people who want to preserve that status quo and possibly to make life even more difficult for couples than it is at present.

If that is the principle on which our economic system works, no wonder it is in a terrible mess.

Murder, seagulls and squirrels

Ever since he gave an interview to The Times in which he admitted murdering a man by pushing him over a cliff, the magazine tycoon Felix Dennis has been the subject of speculation.

Did he really commit a murder? And are the police going to do anything about it? Opinions differ but there are plenty of people who seem to think that he has a case to answer.

Knowing Dennis as I do, I doubt very much if he is losing much sleep; he may be a reckless blackguard but he is also extremely rich, and where multimillionaires and celebrities are concerned, the police generally prove to be reluctant to intervene.

Journalists might be more of a worry. Armed with the clues contained in the interview, it might not be too difficult for investigative hacks to identify the supposed victim of the murder. Contrast the story of rock singer Mark E Smith, lead singer of John Peel's favourite group, The Fall. He too has been sounding off to the press about his murderous activities.

In an interview with the music magazine Uncut, Smith boasted that he had killed two squirrels which he claimed had been eating his garden fence. Like Felix Dennis he was unrepentant and even bragged that he "wouldn't have a problem about running over seagulls".

Smith has yet to be visited by the police. But already the RSPCA has been alerted.

"We will certainly be investigating this now it has been brought to our attention," a spokesman said, adding ominously that in certain circumstances killing squirrels is considered a criminal offence. And presumably that goes for seagulls too.

* Now that the curtain has finally come down on the Princess Diana inquest and the lawyers have left with their wallets bulging with cash, there seems to be only one question left hanging in the air.

Should Diana's butler, Mr Paul Burrell, be prosecuted for perjury after he was filmed admitting that he had told lies when giving evidence under oath?

But why should the monkey be held to account while the organ grinder is allowed to walk away scot-free?

This enquiry carried on for months, allowing Mohamed al-Fayed to present his case about a conspiracy and to examine its merits, if any.

The coroner found there wasn't a shred of evidence to support allegations about the Duke of Edinburgh, senior intelligence figures, Robin Cook and various politicians alleging that they had all been involved in a conspiracy to murder Princess Diana and his son, Dodi. Various of his employees went into the witness box to support him, his security chief, John McNamara even admitting afterwards that he had given false evidence about the chauffeur Henri Paul.

But there is no question of Fayed being called to account. If you read the papers they still, after all that has happened, write of the phoney pharaoh more in sorrow than in anger. More than 10 years after the accident in Paris he is still described as a devoted father grieving for his beloved son – though when he was alive he treated him with general contempt – the implication being that he sincerely believes all that rubbish about the Duke of Edinburgh and co.