Richard Ingrams’ Week: Are we staring into an abyss, or just a computer screen?

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The Independent Online

It gets harder and harder – particularly for a senior citizen such as myself – to keep track of things: harder to remember when it was that certain events occurred.

How long ago, for example, was it that the capitalist system was reported to be on the brink of collapse and we were all said to be "staring into the abyss"? Then, more recently, the democratic system was in peril as a result of the disclosures about MPs' expenses. That was another abyss we were staring into. Even more recently the Government was in meltdown – a popular word nowadays for headline writers – and the Prime Minister almost certain to be toppled at any minute.

Even that seems like a long time ago. The abyss that we were all said to have been staring into now looks as if it may have been nothing more than a mirage.

The banks are still there, the MPs are going to put their house in order, and Gordon Brown is carrying on as if nothing has happened.

What does it all prove, if anything? Only, I think, that the media have lost touch with reality. Common sense, which we used to consider the great British virtue, is less and less in evidence, having been replaced by the tendency to engage in fantasy and hysteria.

You can put forward all kinds of explanations for that if you like. My own impression is that news is nowadays brought to us by young men and women sitting in remote tower blocks, who spend most of the day staring into computer screens.

Rich pickings in Tory revelations

The Daily Mail, which knows all about such things, describes Mr George Osborne as a multi-millionaire. This week's revelations about his various properties seems to confirm this.

In 1998 Osborne bought a London house for £700,000 and sold it eight years later for £1.48 million, a profit of £748,000. He paid no capital gains tax even though the house had been re- designated as his second home. All according to the rules. No impropriety whatsoever, etc... And Osborne has been "adamant" that he made no claims for furniture, utilities or food when he was in London.

Big deal. We all of us are expected to be impressed by Osborne's willingness to pay for tables, chairs and washing-up liquid out of his own pocket. The taxpayer ought to feel grateful.

But is all this of any interest? Only, I think, in so far as it exposes the Osborne lifestyle. We tend to focus on the fact that Osborne and Cameron both went to Eton. But the more significant link is that they are both very rich men.

And the trouble with very rich men is that they can really only feel relaxed and comfortable when they are with other very rich men. That is why you find them all buying houses and flats in the same areas of London or Manhattan, all holidaying in the same watering-holes and tax havens.

So it is the revelations of the top Tories' wealth, rather than the details of moats and duck houses that is damaging, because it reveals the closed incestuous world in which they live.

Making money is always the best medicine

Proof that nothing succeeds like failure has been provided once again with the news that Andy Hornby, pictured, the discredited boss of Halifax Bank of Scotland, has been appointed chief executive of Boots. And if you read the comments of our financial experts, you'll notice that few of them will find anything wrong about the appointment, and some of them actually welcome Hornby as an exciting and imaginative choice for our leading high street chemist.

But quite apart from Hornby's catastrophic banking career, who said anything to object when HBOS appointed him in the first place? The outsider might have wondered whether Hornby, the person who ran the supermarket chain ASDA, was the right person to take charge of one of the world's largest banks when he had no experience whatever of banking. But that thought apparently didn't worry the bank's directors.

As far as we know, Hornby has just as little experience of chemist shops as he did of banking. But to the modern ways of thinking it doesn't matter. It's all just marketing. And if Boots can overlook the disastrous mess he made of HBOS, the fact that he may not know anything at all about cough medicine or hayfever remedies is pretty well irrelevant.

In today's business world, doing one top job is thought to be just the same as any other. It always reminds me of the time I bumped into an old school friend in Oxford who had been a success as head of a big shoe-selling company. What was he doing in Oxford? Running the Blackwell's bookshop chain, he told me.

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