Richard Ingrams: Why should we all be forced to do business online?


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I received notification this week from the Government to tell me that £250 had been paid into my bank account in the form of the winter fuel allowance to which all pensioners regardless of their income are nowadays entitled.

It's a small but vivid illustration of the incompetence and injustice of modern politics. Well-off people like me can be paid a large sum out of the public funds to keep warm while other poor people may be suffering from hypothermia in the Arctic conditions this winter which look like continuing indefinitely.

The Government will do nothing to reform this anomaly. What it is much keener to do is to save a lot of money by doing away with the necessity of sending pensioners like myself a printed letter through the post to tell us that the £250 has been paid into our account.

That is why they are pressing ahead at vast expense to provide broadband access to every square inch of Britain. Then everyone, including pensioners, will be forced to go online and all government information can be provided via the web. All this at a time when we are made aware on a daily basis of just how insecure, volatile and dangerous this system of communication is.

We don't need another sermon from the Rev Cameron

My friend Malcolm Muggeridge used to divide prime ministers into bookies and clergymen. But there hasn't been a real bookie since the days of Harold Wilson. Blair was a clergyman through and through, as was Brown, albeit of the Scottish Presbyterian variety. Cameron, who mimics Blair in so many ways, is similarly parsonical in many of his public utterances.

All the guff about the Big Society, about the need for all of us to get involved in the decision-making process is pure vicarspeak. The market research to see how happy we are was followed closely by yesterday's speech about the importance of marriage – "family is so important to our personal life, which most of us feel in our gut ... family is where people learn to live in harmony with others".

Or not, as the case may be. Sermons of this kind are all very well but they conveniently ignore the real reasons for the decline in marriage – the no-fault divorce laws which make men in particular reluctant to commit, and the high price of property that forces both partners to go out to work, making it very hard to bring up a family. Politicians like Cameron could do something about all this but it's easier just to waffle away about people's gut feelings.

How can tragedy become so routine?

For the third time in as many weeks, the whole of the Great Western Railway came to a halt on Tuesday as a result of what announcements called "a fatality in the West Drayton area".

For two or three hours, no trains ran out of or into London, causing an enormous amount of inconvenience or worse to thousands of people. Yet I could see nothing in the press to explain what had happened, and Network Rail had nothing to say about it the following day. All this has become a matter of routine.

It is safe to assume that in all three cases it was a suicide that led to the breakdown because the Great Western is for some reason popular with those who wish to die by throwing themselves in front of a train – a particularly horrible way to end your life, with the lasting effects on the train driver hard to imagine.

In the absence of any information you can speculate about what lies behind all these suicides. What is unsettling is the routine response to it all and the way that, after a few hours of chaos, the trains start moving again while the "fatality" – yet another of those railway expressions whose meaning is conveniently vague – is quickly forgotten until the next time.

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