PETER HITCHENS: A cashless society is brilliant…if you are a spy or a thief 

Are they trying to abolish cash? It seems that the national Covid panic, including wild suggestions that cash spreads disease, has been the pretext for a fierce attempt to march us towards a cashless society. 

Getting actual banknotes grows harder every day, as cashpoint machines are closed and banks disappear.

Even shops that still accept cash often complain that they have no change. A cafe near my office has claimed for weeks that it is mysteriously ‘unable’ to accept money, so I must produce a card to pay for a £1.25 cup of coffee. Increasingly bureaucratic pubs look shocked if offered coins or notes.

You may think they are obliged to accept legal tender. But it is not quite like that. This rule can be enforced only if you are settling a debt which already exists. If they have not given you the goods, then there is no debt and they can refuse your money and demand a card.

Getting actual banknotes grows harder every day, as cashpoint machines are closed and banks disappear

Getting actual banknotes grows harder every day, as cashpoint machines are closed and banks disappear

Getting actual banknotes grows harder every day, as cashpoint machines are closed and banks disappear

I personally loathe and distrust contactless payment, though in recent months I’ve felt more or less obliged to use it in some places. It makes money too easy to spend and too easy to steal.

Where possible, I have chosen not to make my cards contactless, but sometimes there is no such choice. I’ve also noticed that the old chip and pin system has become much slower than it used to be.

I shudder to think what might happen in the interval between losing a contactless card and reporting it. The recent increase in the limit on these things to £45 was bad enough. A dishonest person could rack up huge amounts of spending in a few minutes. But on October 15, it will rise to £100.

Does this matter? I think so. I fear very much that the next stage will be that shops will only accept payment through smartphones, already preferred by many places. I absolutely do not want to pay for anything through a phone, so easily lost, stolen or hacked.

I also resent the idea that all my purchases are being recorded and monitored and studied by someone. At the moment, it is just people who want to sell me more things, but, as we’ve seen with Facebook and Google, it quickly spreads into other areas.

I shudder to think what might happen in the interval between losing a contactless card and reporting it. The recent increase in the limit on these things to £45 was bad enough

I shudder to think what might happen in the interval between losing a contactless card and reporting it. The recent increase in the limit on these things to £45 was bad enough

I shudder to think what might happen in the interval between losing a contactless card and reporting it. The recent increase in the limit on these things to £45 was bad enough

If money becomes purely electronic, as I think is now likely within 20 years, then it won’t really be ours any more. Imagine the power over you which this gives banks and the state. Imagine the problems if it just goes wrong, as it has done more than once in the recent past, with reputable major banks refusing their customers access to their accounts.

I used to laugh at the French peasants who stuffed old banknotes under the floorboards because they trusted neither banks nor the state with their savings. Silly, superstitious, backward old fools, I thought. Now I am not so sure.

My advice for now: use cash wherever you can, welcome it if you are in business. And the Government should reform the legal tender laws to oblige traders to accept reasonable quantities of coins or notes for any transaction.

A cashless society may sound desirable to those tidy, glinting people who think that all change is progress.

But to me it sounds like a big step towards a Brave New World of surveillance, dependency and a total lack of privacy or real control over your own life.

Sub drama plumbs new depths

I have my doubts about the vast size and expense of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It is a superpower cold war weapon, when we are no longer a superpower and the Cold War ended 30 years ago. We could and should manage with something smaller and cheaper.

But I still find the self-righteous anti-nuclearism of the British Left irritating. The BBC’s new thriller series Vigil seems to me to be 90 per cent proof CND rubbish. Weirdly, it casts as heroes the far from loveable Police Scotland, while portraying the Royal Navy as a stony-faced nightmare of humourless obstructionism, bad manners, callousness, lies and brutality. Really?

Unlike most of those who have criticised this programme, I have been winched from a helicopter on to – and later off – the heaving deck of a warship. It was surprisingly enjoyable, in its worrying way. And I have spent a weekend as a (not entirely welcome) civilian interloper aboard a nuclear missile submarine, the Polaris boat HMS Repulse.

What I remember above all else was the friendliness and kindness of all those involved, the enduring Naval humour which has for centuries allowed men to bear cramped conditions and danger.

I remember some things especially well: standing next to the captain on top of the conning tower as we negotiated the dreaded Whirlpool of Corryvreckan, a current so fierce it could swing a battlecruiser round. 

He was trying to stay out of the way of a Soviet spy ship, and knew that if he miscalculated he could put the deterrent out of action for months; a jolly dinner in the wardroom 300ft below the waves, with a great deal of good red wine (viewed by many as a protection against radiation); being allowed to squeeze the Scalextric-like trigger, during an exercise, which would have launched a missile in real life (the rockets were guarded from idiots by two large men armed with wooden clubs); and Sunday morning church, where we sang ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways’. No doubt it’s changed, but I still side with the Navy, and resent the way they are shown in this drama.

A most amazing thing happened last week. A complaint I made against the BBC was upheld by its own ‘Executive Complaints Unit’. Last November, Radio 4 made a number of insinuations against a whistleblower at the chemical weapons watchdog the OPCW, and against me.

They suggested this highly principled and non-political scientist’s brave actions might have been motivated by money, and that he held rather wild opinions, which I know he does not hold. They also suggested that I ‘shared the views’ of the Syrian and Russian tyrannies. All were false.

It has taken almost ten months to achieve this, but I do hope the BBC – and others – will now do some decent reporting of the scandal of what happened at the OPCW, the doctoring of a vital report to justify rash military action by the USA, Britain and France.

Ministry for freeing monsters

Well now, if the ‘Ministry of Justice’ reckons it is safe to release the double child murderer and rapist Colin Pitchfork (gosh, I hope they are right), how can they continue to justify the imprisonment on remand of the brave journalist Julian Assange, who never hurt a hair of anyone’s head?

I suppose there is a risk that Mr Assange might do another bunk, while he awaits the USA’s endless attempt to kidnap him and lock him up in some supermax dungeon for centuries to come. 

He might even wander down to a South Coast beach and paddle his way across to France (it would be fun to see how the French responded to some traffic in the opposite direction).

But it isn’t really a very big risk, and it would be a lot more justified than the gamble of releasing the monstrous Pitchfork. 

I think it just shows that our Government is more afraid of the wrath of Washington than it is concerned that known criminals will strike again.

If you want to comment on Peter Hitchens click here. 



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