Richard Ingrams’s Week: Why should we do what the Government wants?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like me, you may have noticed that your bank no longer sends you a new cheque book when your old one is about to run out. This could be put down to the general deterioration of the banking system. But more probably it is a deliberate ploy to prepare us for the day when the banks – as they are planning to – put an end to cheque books altogether.

The announcement has led to a predictable storm of protest, and it has been pointed out, I suspect correctly, that the banks are not legally entitled to make a move of this kind, any more than the big high street shops like Boots which nowadays refuse to accept cheques.

It will, as usual, be up to individual campaigners to challenge the banks and, if necessary, take them to court. The government will not say as much but they will naturally be in favour of any move which does away with paper and forces people on to the internet. They will have the support of all the public utilities, which would dearly like to increase their profits by forcing everyone to pay their bills by direct debit.

Unfortunately for the government, there are still about 10 million people in Britain who are not connected to the internet. Gordon Brown and his broadband tsarina, Martha Lane Fox, will do their best to portray us "digital deniers" as poor deprived individuals, whereas there are several good reasons for resistance particularly when security is so easily breached and when internet fraud is widespread. We can expect an increase in the number of Luddites and I hope the formation of a new splinter group – Friends of the Cheque.

Stick to being a headmaster

In the old days school reports were brief and to the point. "Satisfactory work" or "must try harder" were about the most you could expect. I remember one master who was trying to teach me history putting, "He has a frivolous streak". How right he was.

Nowadays it is all very different. Teachers feel obliged to write a good 200-300 words on each subject studied. This will include not just an assessment of the pupil but a lengthy description of the syllabus to show you how committed they are. In the case of subjects like the now obligatory IT this may mean little to old-fashioned types like myself.

All of which brings me to Mr Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington better known as a biographer of Tony Blair, and a man regarded as our leading authority on the former prime minister.

Like those royal biographers who are called upon to comment on any major drama affecting the House of Windsor, Mr Seldon is expected to pronounce on all of Mr Blair's various activities, to give judgement and even offer spiritual guidance whenever he feels the need. He was at it again this week following Blair's appearance on the BBC, commending his protégé's steadfastness of purpose, his many achievements, but urging him to apologise publicly for his mistakes over Iraq.

The question that arises is how the headmaster of one of our leading public schools manages to combine these two roles, particularly when writing those hundreds of reports has become almost a full-time activity.

I think if I was a Wellington parent having to shell out about £20,000pa in fees I might feel happier if the headmaster were to concentrate on his pupils and leave the one-time mastermind of New Labour to others. Must try harder, in other words.

Enthusing about cars is no longer enough

Before the nation could fall into a state of acute depression what with the snow and all the cancelled planes and trains, the credit crunch, not to mention the pre-Christmas stress, a BBC spokesman pronounced the glad tidings of great joy that "viewers can rest assured that Top Gear will be around for a long time yet".

And all because Andy Wilman, Executive Producer for Top Gear and the man credited with the transformation of the programme into a worldwide success attracting 350m viewers, had voiced misgivings about the way the three presenters – Clarkson, Hammond and May – had turned themselves into cartoon characters when what was wanted was "good films enthusing about cars".

The difficulty for Wilman and his supporters is simply that cars, considered in isolation, when not being suspended from cranes or driven in to the sea, are fairly boring. And men enthusing about them more boring still.

For most of us cars are just an efficient means of getting from A to B. And nowadays they all look much the same and all do much the same sort of thing. There is a very definite limit to the amount of enthusing that is socially acceptable.

There is of course another small difficulty from the BBC's point of view, namely that in the light of global warming the car is now regarded by most of the world's scientists as the number one enemy. Yet here is a programme watched by millions of people extolling the car, particularly the car in its noisiest, fastest and least environmentally friendly form.

Luckily for Clarkson and his 350m fans that is not something that is likely to be of great concern to the kind of people who nowadays run the BBC.

Comments