Is this country, which we once revered – perhaps more in hope than expectation – as an oasis of sanity in a mad world, itself going bonkers? We might even ask whether that destination has actually been reached. Certainly it is hard to work out how much farther Britain has to travel before it qualifies for mass sectioning.
The questions are prompted by two stories in today’s newspapers. Both involve figures who have achieved high office in the making and enforcing of our laws.
In the first instance, a judge has ruled that swearing at policemen should no longer be considered an offence. His reasoning is that that, since everyone swears these days, police officers should be used to it. I think you should know right away that the judge’s name is Bean. The hapless, accident-prone comedian on the telly now has a doppelganger on the bench.
Now, I’m no puritan when it comes to salty language. I frequently if not commendably utter words that are still considered too crude to assail the ears of ladies of genteel upbringing. I have even, at times, urged that certain taboo words be de-tabooed, to remove whatever remains of their mystique. But allowing members of the public to hurl unsavoury abuse at coppers, free from the fear of retribution, is surely going a curse too far.
Mr. Bean, far from exposing himself to ridicule, is not alone in pursuing this line of thinking. The Home Office apparently is thinking of disqualifying the word “insulting” from the public order offence of using abusive or threatening language. Even the Metropolitan Police, it transpires, is quietly going along with the relaxed attitude espoused by Mr. Bean and the Ministry.
I am not concerned here with the sensibilities of policemen who, as the judge accurately observes, must have become accustomed to hearing colourful responses to their interventions in support of good order. The fear, rather, is the loss of respect for authority that ignoring it is likely to engender. For the law-enforcement establishment, it is yet another window smashed in an edifice that is already looking deserted and derelict.
Meanwhile, three lawmakers from the House of Lords, each of who happens to be Asian, are protesting that their punishment for fiddling expenses is excessive and racially motivated. They may be right, for all I know – though demonstrating prejudice beyond a reasonable doubt will prove difficult even for the prominent legal colleague they have retained for the task – but what do we hear from them of the original alleged offences? Not a chirp.
Note if you will that they are not claiming that they are innocent of abuses of privilege, but merely complaining that, having been found guilty as charged by their fellow peers they are being singled out for unreasonable punishment for being members of an ethnic minority (a community which they proclaim they are proud to represent).
One of the miscreants, Baroness Uddin, was found to have claimed thousands of pounds in expenses for a second home in Maidstone, Kent, a flat which she owns but seldom visited. Another, Lord Paul, is reputed to be one of the richest men in the land.
Instead of rising in indignation they should be skulking in shame. Rather than playing the discrimination card, they should be chucking in their hand and resigning. Needless to say, they intend to stay in the game, courtesy of their all-too-tolerant colleagues.
A shame on them too, while we’re dishing it out.
Just what is going on in our once admired public institutions?