Richard Ingrams’s Week: Am I the only person who doesn't hate junk mail?

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The Independent Online

Like drink-driving and paedophilia, junk mail is one of those things that everyone has agreed is 100 per cent bad. But for those who like writing letters to the newspapers it is a godsend.

Renewed outrage has greeted the announcement that, thanks to a change in Royal Mail regulations, there is now to be even more junk mail than ever before. But I find it ever more puzzling why all those people should wax so furious about brochures and catalogues coming through their letterbox when it seems there are so many more important things to get worked up about.

Let me first declare an interest. Like most people involved in the magazine business I am finding it increasingly hard to get my product into retail outlets – not surprising, perhaps, when the big monopolies like WH Smith nowadays expect to be paid for putting a magazine on their shelves. The result is that we have to rely on subscriptions, and the most effective way of getting subscriptions is by mailing likely purchasers. The same methods are used by businesses selling all kinds of things. And if my own postbag is anything to go by, charities rely on junk mail for their donations. The results must be good, otherwise they would have given up long ego.

So why all the fuss? And while we are on the subject, critics of junk mail ought to bear in mind that at a time when the future of the post office is in doubt, anything that has to be delivered by Royal Mail ought to be welcomed, if only because it is going to keep the postman in employment.

As for the junk mail itself, if it is of little or no appeal, it can be put to good use lighting the fire, for example, or lining the bird cage.

Cosying up with Chilcot

As was to be expected, Gordon Brown was given an easy ride when he finally came to give evidence to the Chilcot inquiry last week. In this respect he was little different from his discredited predecessor Tony Blair. I have already pointed out the links that at least one inquiry member, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, had with Blair. This led to a bizarre situation when Blair was being questioned about a speech he made in Chicago in 1999. The speech was largely written by Freedman but no mention was made of this by Blair, let alone by Freedman himself.

As for Gordon Brown, it was another member of the inquiry, historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who recently accused me and Oliver Miles, the former ambassador to Libya, of anti-Semitism for drawing attention to the fact that both he and Freedman are Jewish. Speaking on a radio station broadcasting from one of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Gilbert deplored such disgraceful racist suggestions. On the other hand, he went on, we were fortunate in Britain to have a Prime Minister, in the person of Gordon Brown, "totally committed to Israel and who feels very close to Jewish people". He went on to tell listeners how, when Brown paid a visit to Israel last year, Brown had asked him to accompany him when he addressed the Israeli parliament.

In view of this cosy-sounding relationship and Gilbert's obvious devotion to Gordon Brown, it was not in the least bit surprising that when it came to the Chilcot inquiry, Sir Martin observed a reticence similar to that of Sir Lawrence when face to face with Blair.

The internet may be useful, but it's still very dangerous

In a burst of unaccustomed euphoria, Gordon Brown last year described broadband as one of the basic necessities of life, like water or electricity.

So vital was it that his Government intended to levy a 50p per month tax on those of us with fixed phone lines to help pay for all those underprivileged people to be connected with broadband and thus have their lives enriched in hitherto unimagined ways.

Brown's so-called digital inclusion champion, the feisty millionaire Martha Lane Fox, left, has taken up the cause of bringing the 10 million or so lost souls deprived of all the benefits of the internet into the fold. She has suggested that, apart from everything else, they would save over £500 a year. But the Government's gain was given away this week by Helen Milner, managing director of UK Online Centres, who pointed out that getting 10 million online would actually save the Government £900m – presumably by doing away with all postal communications.

One difficulty Lane Fox and co have in converting the digital deniers is the constant stream of bad publicity about the internet. Any parent must have had the gravest doubts about Facebook after this week's story of the murderous rapist who acquired his teenage victim on the site. And there was yet another report of how easy it now is for criminals to gain access to bank accounts by masquerading as banks.

You don't have to be a Neanderthal or a Luddite to want to have nothing to do with such a dangerous, if in other ways useful invention.

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