Richard Ingrams’s Week: Feel confident about your money? Don’t bank on it

A man jailed this week who made more than £2m from stolen pin numbers and credit cards
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The Independent Online

Do you remember when the chip and pin system was introduced being told that it was 100 per cent fraud-proof? It turns out not to have been true. Witness the case of a man jailed this week who made more than £2m from stolen pin numbers and credit cards.

Everyone from Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling downwards is talking about the need to restore confidence – by which they generally mean confidence in banks and in particular the confidence that banks are supposed to have in other banks. But also the confidence that we the punters are expected to have that when we put our money into a bank it will be safe.

We have recently lost that confidence, and the trouble is that when Brown and Darling tell us that our money will be perfectly safe, we don't have confidence in them either.

With the possible exception of Vince Cable, the public nowadays has very little confidence in what any elected politician tells them. Do you have confidence in the media to tell you what is going on? Judging by the media's record in foreseeing the credit crunch or identifying the folly of the sub-prime mortgage craze, what sane person could answer yes?

And this lack of confidence extends down to more practical matters. For example, you can no longer be confident that if you go into hospital you won't become infected; or that the police will answer a 999 call; or that the train won't be cancelled.

All this may seem like a bit of a joke. But as with the credit crunch itself it is a new phenomenon and it is getting worse. Where it is all going to lead I am not confident to predict.

Perils of the pursuit of youth

A year or so ago when the BBC was involved in yet another crisis – on that occasion over faked quiz shows – it transpired that its 6 Music radio station had been inventing the names of winners because so few listeners were entering the competition.

The fact that only two listeners complained about the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross programme has been used by defenders of the BBC to show how few people found it offensive when it first went on air. But is it possible that in fact very few people were listening? Because the alternatives are rather more depressing to contemplate.

One is that the Radio 2 listeners are so moronic and lacking in taste and discrimination that they find no reason to criticise the obscenities of Brand and Ross. The other is that they do, but see no point in registering a complaint to the BBC because they think that it will be registered by a computer and then ignored.

Whatever the truth, there is no doubt what lies behind this week's BBC shambles, namely the campaign, common to nearly all the media, to attract a young audience come what may, regardless of issues of taste, decency or any other old-fashioned concept.

That in turn explains why the producer of the Brand programmes was an inexperienced 25-year-old. Because the BBC thinks, mistakenly, that if you want to appeal to young listeners you have to put a young man in charge. So long as attracting young people remains the prime concern of the BBC we can expect more and more disasters like the one we have had this week. No amount of new guidelines and procedures is going to bring an end to it.

Who needs sex when you have a Robert Maxwell prototype?

Andrew Davies, the BBC's all-purpose adaptor of classic novels for the telly, is famous for sexing up the dusty tomes of yesteryear to make them acceptable to a debauched and depraved 21st-century audience.

But even he has admitted defeat when confronted by Dickens's sprawling shapeless novel 'Little Dorrit' currently showing on BBC1. When it came to spicing up the story, all that Davies could manage was a little suggestion of lesbianism between two of the minor characters.

Perhaps in the light of the Jonathan Ross scandal it is just as well for the BBC that Davies has not been up to his usual tricks. But with the central character, old Mr Dorrit, locked up in the debtors' prison the story still has a certain topical relevance.

Also prominent is the financier Mr Merdle (a curious combination of Murdoch and Maxwell), who is credited by high society with almost magical money-making abilities. Everyone invests their savings in his companies, everyone accepts the invitations to his lavish parties. Until one morning they wake up to the news that all the money has vanished and that Mr Merdle (played by Anton Lesser, pictured) has cut his throat in the Turkish bath.

The credit crunch has yet to provide a similar horror story. But much the same sort of thing happened with Robert Maxwell, who almost certainly committed suicide as well. Dickens brilliantly describes how after Merdle's death his acolytes insist that all along they knew he was a shady character – as they did when Maxwell was posthumously exposed.