Richard Ingrams’s Week: Millions of us live happily in an internet-free Britain

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The Independent Online

The government is taking steps to ensure that many more people have easy access to hardcore pornography in their homes. That is a possibly tasteless but nevertheless perfectly valid way of interpreting the current drive to get the bulk of the population linked up to the internet.

It is officially estimated that about 17 million people are "excluded" from the internet and the Government has now appointed a woman called Martha Lane Fox, described as "feisty", to try to remedy the situation.

The use if the word "excluded" gives the game away. It is meant to suggest that those 17 million people, through no fault of their own, are somehow – whether through poverty or ignorance – deprived of one of the vital necessities of life.

Conveniently ignored is the fact that a great many of those 17 million people will have no wish to be connected to the internet. They find they have managed to get along quite well without it and see no reason to alter their views. Some of them, especially those with children, will be aware that the internet (for all the easy access to information it provides) is fraught with all kinds of dangers – being a profitable refuge for pornographers, conmen and crooks of various kind.

The Government and, no doubt Ms Lane Fox, will keep up the pretence that their only ambition is to enrich the lives of those 17 million poor, excluded dropouts. But they know the main reason for providing internet access for all is to enrich the state by saving the Government a great deal of the money currently spent on things like school textbooks, postal services etc.

Megrahi facts conveniently forgotten

Last week, as I reported, the world was "recoiling in disgust" (the words were those of the Daily Mail's columnist Richard Littlejohn) at the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

After the recoiling, we get the shuddering. Tom Baldwin, the journalist who played a key role in outing Dr David Kelly, now writes in The Times that "much of the world shudders at the sight of the man convicted of Britain's worst terrorist atrocity being fêted as a hero on his return to Libya".

As the world recoiled, or shuddered, according to taste, debate raged as to whether or not Gordon Brown had expressed a wish that Megrahi should, or shouldn't, be allowed to die in prison.

Conveniently forgotten was the fact that, until the other day, Megrahi was fighting an appeal case in the Scottish courts that could well have resulted in his conviction being quashed – there being a great mass of evidence casting doubt on the original verdict of guilty.

Had that happened, then the possibility of Megrahi dying in prison would never have arisen for the simple reason that he wouldn't be in prison in the first place. What did happen, however, was that he dropped his appeal – which he did to the relief of the authorities and, quite obviously, in exchange for being allowed to return home to die.

But all these matters are now forgotten while everybody in the civilised world recoils, or shudders, in disgust at his release and his tumultuous reception in Libya.

What Dr Johnson can tell us about weary Brown

A Washington journalist reports that "up-and-coming Cameron" made a better impression on President Obama when he visited London than "dull and dreary Brown".

It wouldn't be surprising. Dull and dreary Brown may or may not be, but he cannot very easily rid himself of that look of profound weariness – not unnatural in a man who has been working at such intense levels of pressure pretty well non-stop for more than 12 years.

"He that is himself weary will soon weary the public. Let him therefore lay down his employment, whatever it be, who can no longer exert his former activity or attention: let him not endeavour to struggle with censure, or obstinately infest the stage till a general hiss commands him to depart."

The words of Dr Samuel Johnson, the 300th anniversary of whose birth occurs this month. Gordon Brown is likely to ignore Dr Johnson's advice just as the nation is likely to ignore the anniversary. We live in a mad world, a world of humbug and hysteria, and a man whose distinguishing feature was a kind of monumental common sense is not likely to be much heeded.

"Every now and then," the historian AJP Taylor wrote, "someone asks as a sort of parlour game, 'Who do you think is the greatest Englishman?'" I have never been at a loss for an answer. Samuel Johnson of course. Not Churchill. Not Wellington or Nelson. Certainly not Darwin.

Just a shabbily dressed, ungainly figure in a dirty old wig, who spent most of his life in and around Fleet Street and whose only real adventure was a trip to the Hebrides with his friend James Boswell. Whatever else, he was not a suitable hero for the 21st-century.