Michael Howard: Political correctness stole my video
Michael Howard is a unquestionably a bit of a wanker. While this isn't any obstacle to a political career, you can't help but wonder what he was like in his previous ghoulish incarnation as a lawyer. Did he spend his time in court being a wanker? For example:
'M'lud, I would like to ask the counsel for the prosecution to repeat everything he has said over the past week, because I was listening to the audio book of Frederick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol on my Walkman.'
What prompts this latest piece of Howard bashing? Well, it's the way Howard is enthusiastically backing a Tory MP's private member's bill, which would change the law on householders defending themselves against burglars. Householders would only be prosecuted if they used 'grossly disproportionate' force against the intruders, a substantial change to the existing law whereby they're only allowed to use 'reasonable' force to defend themselves.
The shrewd observer will have spotted two things going on here. First, there's an attempt to give individuals greater scope to defend themselves against burglars. But this is really a piffling side-issue. The real issue is Michael Howard continuing his curious battle with political correctness. Earlier this week Howard offered us an insight into his strange little world, saying:
'If a burglar breaks in, attacks you and you defend yourself, you can find yourself in the dock. Most people think that's typical of the topsy turvy, politically correct world in which we live. Gone are the days when your home was your castle.'
Yes, and if you go into WHSmith and ask for a black biro, you'll be arrested for racism and once you get to prison all the criminals will have luxury five-star accommodation with Sky Sports, all paid for by the taxpayer. Not that there will be any actual criminals in prisons they'll be too full of motorists who were caught by speed cameras doing 31mph in a 30mph area. Ooh, you couldn't make it up!
As usual, Howard prefers to invent issues than deal with real ones. True, Tony Martin ended up in prison, but the issue here is 'reasonable force'. One of the key aspects of the Tony Martin case was that he shot Fred Barras in the back as he was fleeing. Even if the law is changed, shooting an unarmed intruder who is leaving your property could easily be described as 'grossly disproportionate'.
Wisely, Howard hasn't referred specifically to Tony Martin. However, he has claimed that the private member's bill would protect people like Kenneth Faulkner, a farmer who shot a burglar in the leg after his home was targeted three times. Howard neglects to mention that Faulkner was arrested but not charged, which is a bit like saying that we live in a sick society when Peter Sutcliffe is allowed to walk free, awarded a Victoria Cross and given a luxury flat in Chelsea at the state's expense. It's very sick indeed, but it didn't happen.
Good old Michael. He never lets the facts get in the way of a good piece of anti-PC paranoia. But possibly the biggest problem with the bill is that it's purely a piece of Westminster politicking with little or no relevance to the real world.
Having your home broken into while you're there is a very rare occurrence because most burglars avoid occupied properties. That's not to say it doesn't happen, or isn't utterly terrifying, but you can't get away from the fact that Howard is using 'home invasion' (as the Americans excitingly call it) to serve his own purposes. Like most politicians, he'd prefer to get on his soapbox about an emotive issue than address real, everyday problems that have far more impact on people's lives. In a proper assessment of risk, the most likely cause of unexpected death is not burglars but the countless appalling drivers out there who think Britain's roads are a giant game of Race and Chase.
And in the unlikely event that you're the victim of a home invasion, how much are you going to be able to defend yourself anyway? God only knows what Howard imagines a break-in to be like. Perhaps he envisages the man of the house going downstairs in his dressing gown, waving a golf club and shouting 'I say! Who's there?', at which point a comedy cockney burglar says to his accomplice 'Cor Blimey, Fingers! Let's scarper before we get our collars felt!'
It doesn't take much imagination to realise that the reality would be rather different. How many of us are capable of hand-to-hand combat with intruders? Even if you're prepared to have a go, what if they're bigger than you? Or there's a gang of them? Or they've got knives? The outlook isn't great for the average bloke, and even worse for women, unless you're Jodie Foster.
The more you think about it, the more improbable the whole scenario of fighting off burglars seems. The only universal defence against a determined intruder is wholesale gun ownership, which isn't going to happen, fortunately. (Guns, binge drinking, chavs it doesn't bear thinking about.)
But really the whole issue has little to do with burglars. It's about Michael Howard and his obsession with the idea that decent folk are being terrorised by criminals who are supported in their thieving and violence by a 'politically correct' system. It's pretty much the scenario described on a daily basis by the Daily Mail, or in the thoughtful articles of Richard Littlejohn.
Howard's stance is depressingly familiar in the world of contemporary politics. New Labour has relentlessly pursued deeply irrelevant policies (ID cards, on-the-spot fines, 'traffic light' food labelling, a computer for every school pupil, etc.) and the Tories seem determined to match them.
What a wonderful world it would be if crime could be reduced by banning political correctness, or obese families could be made thin with new food labels. It's such a lovely idea that it's tempting to start believing in it. Maybe it's time to prevent burglaries by making it illegal to sell black-and-white striped sweaters and bags with the word 'Swag' written on them.