Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

Several times in my life, I’ve woken up in a pub. Sadly though, these days lock-ins no longer happen to me. I think part of it is the licensing laws. Since the Licensing Act 2003, landlords kick everyone out at 2am rather than lock the doors at 11 and join in the fun, The authorities, too are more punctilious about enforcing the the new rules. Either that, or I’m no longer 25, and I’m no longer invited. But here we are, I’m in a pub, the estimable Coach and Horses on Greek Street, Soho, and we’ve been locked in with a drink-sodden roué called Jeffrey Bernard (played by Robert Bathurst).

Jeffrey Bernard is unwell

Jeffrey Bernard wrote the Low Life column in the Spectator until his death in 1997. It was “a suicide note in weekly installments”. Weekly, unless he was “unwell” and failed to deliver his copy on time. He chronicled the lives and loves and descent of old Soho, though the adventures of a cast of a few thousand inhabitants of what was then a glamorous but shabby and disreputable part of west central London. Many of the watering holes, where politicians, journalists and whores rubbed shoulders with Luvvies and criminals, are now closed. The Gay Hussar, a Hungarian restaurant just up the road, where lefties plotted revolution, shut last year. Only the Coach and Horses, or “Norman’s” remains a monument to this lost world. It’s interior remains unchanged since the 1970s, and this production a stripped down, solo version of Keith Waterhouse’s play, is being put on in the very place it was set.

The Pub itself is as much as a star in this performance as Robert Bathurst, who delivered his monologue pretty well, but without the cameos, it felt a bit like a string of drinking anecdotes. Bathurst held up tolerably too, to the inevitable comparison to Peter O’Toole, for whom the part was written. But what made the evening special: You cannot recreate the deep atmosphere of a place like that pub. It’s still in touch with a lost community – though cartoons on the wall, to the graffiti in the bogs and the affection many people feel for the place. I’ve made friends here, and this pub is one of my favourite places on earth. The history and the characters keep drawing me back for “just the one”, and I’m not alone. Celebrities have turned out to support this institution. Stephen Fry attended the Premier, to honour the place where Ian Hislop and Peter Cook could once be found propping up the bar, being witty.

But these people aren’t in the Coach and Horses as much recently. These people have either died, or they don’t drink any more. The life of the piss-artist is, like tinker and jester, one soon to be lost to history. Chronicling the lives of interesting drinkers no longer sells papers, because it’s not sexy to die with one leg, suffering the complications of diabetes. And, as Bernard himself observed, the pub’s great characters drift off, and you’re left with the kind of “character” who’s eccentricity is to lose umbrellas. This generation’s piss artists will be found in Camden, not Soho. If there are great piss-artists, they’re not the sort to honour their predecessors by frequenting the same watering hole to bask in the glow of someone else’s genius. True piss-artistry cannot be other than original and singular, otherwise it’s just alcoholism. And these days the kind of people who manage to survive on a few well-turned phrases and the generosity of older sexual partners don’t drink, they take Cocaine.

Cocaine, you see doesn’t put a spare tyre over those beautiful, instagrammable abdominal muscles, and whilst a coke-head will die no older than the drinkers did, they go quickly and aesthetically of a heart attack, not as a doubly incontinent carcass rotting away with a faint whiff of peardrops and urine. Hanging around outside the pub 10 minutes before opening time grey faced and suffering the DTs simply doesn’t look as funny or clever as it once did, because we’ve watched where it leads.

Times change.

Fullers, the Pub’s owners, want to revamp the property, and manage it themselves. It does need some money spent. Pubs these days must get the basics right, or the people will move, whatever history they have. The “characters” these days don’t need a venue to live in. Today’s equivalent of the Bar at the Coach, is Twitter. And unlike at the Coach & Horses in the 1980s, you don’t need to drink your liver away to hear a great wit’s bon mots.

We cannot keep places frozen in aspic, monuments to moments and people who have passed. We all move on, or perish. The current landlord has made the pub a Vegan restaurant, and I wonder what Bernard would have made of that, so he’s trying. But pub laws are so cruel to landlords who make a success of their pub, as they can find the business they built taken from them. I’ve seen too many PubCos rip the heart out of communities with ill-judged renovations and break the heart of Landlords by installing managers. Sign the petition here, if you agree. But I think, like the drinking anecdotes at a bar, we’ve heard this story before.

Sitting just behind Cambridge circus, between Chinatown and Soho, Fuller’s calculate they can make more money than the current tenants. That which will be lost when they do so is only really of value to a dwindling band of romantics, and fans of a 30-year-old play about a journalist who stopped writing in the ’90s. And that isn’t a magic powerful enough to overcome the brute economics of central London property prices.

Abu Qatada

I’m not a human rights lawyer. So all I have are opinions, which are worthless. One part of me thinks if Abu Qatada is protected by Human rights legislation from Torture, and the fruit from that poisoned chalice, then I am too. On the other hand, taking so long, and so much money to get him extradited to face charges in Jordan seems a little excessive.

In order to do so, there’s a possiblity that Jordan has become a better, freer, less abusive place, with a better, more just legal system. The British Government acted within the rule of law, but finally got its way. However the main beneficiaries are well-paid lawyers, and there is an argument that endless, doomed appeals aimed mainly at buying time could possibly be looked at, to see if the huge cost could be reduced.

The ECHR isn’t the problem, at least not entirely. Any British Bill of Rights would look very similar. This isn’t “europe” opposing the democratic will of the British People. Ultimately you have competing rights: that of Abu Qatada to not be tortured and not face evidence in trail obtained by torture and the right of the British Government to deport a disruptive illegal alien to face trial in a friendly country for terrorism charges. Deciding on competing rights are what courts are FOR. So I feel little anger at how long it’s taken, and distain for the more hyperventillating nonsense from much of the right.

Everyone’s done their job. Move on.

Speeding and the Abuse of Statistics

Yesterday, I attended a speed awareness course. I was caught at 35 in a 30 zone (in my defence I was decelerating  and it was a genuine mistake). I was given the option of a £95 course instead of £60 and 3 points.

During the course, the instructor, a knowledgeable but catastrophically monotone former traffic cop asserted that the re offending rate for the speed course is better than that of the points and a fine. My inner stat geek started screaming: SELF-SELECTING SAMPLE. People offered the course have

  1. not offended in the three years previously
  2. been caught a small amount over the speed-limit
  3. be prepared to spend extra to avoid points therefore probably wealthier
  4. be willing to spend half a day taking the course.
All of these things suggest speed awareness courses are being given to people who already respect the rules of the road, and if the conversations with my fellow “delegates” (ffs) was representative, all were first-time offenders who reckoned their speeding was an error of judgement, not habitual. There were no “boy-racers”, and the only person undermining the instructor was me, because I am a contrary bastard and I don’t like the police and he didn’t appear to know the law surrounding cyclists very well.
Above all, I feel genuine stress when I see people abusing statistics. This seems only obvious to me. Is it?
Abuse of stats is a problem: People working in a business where success is measured by stats: speed-camera partnerships and associated road-safety wallahs are a good example, will use statistics to “prove” whatever they do is working. Without the cold, hard measure of cash, the temptation to abuse stats is enormous. People look for information confirming their biases. In this case that the course an instructor delivers, works as intended suits the interests of the people who work for AA Drivetech. The record of speed cameras in saving lives almost dissapears for example when you consider reversion to the mean. Thus we have a deeply unpopular policy sold on the basis of safety, yet with the suspicion that it’s about money.
As it happens, the I found the course is useful, and might even be useful to people who are more habitual speeders. I would not mind the course being COMPULSORY with a fine for more serious examples of speeding and repeat offending. Certainly I took away a few tips for safer driving from a bloke who knows what he’s talking about. Commentary driving as a means to combat boredom and fatigue for example. But I think the focus on speed and speed alone means the dick-head tail-gater who can only be caught by rear-facing cameras in non-police cars, or the dick-head (probably the same) who passes fast and close to cyclists, or the person overtaking round a blind bend, are NOT caught by speed-cameras. The police need to stop thinking speed cameras are all that matters. And they need to accept evidence from people who aren’t warranted officers.
This dick-head wasn’t speeding. But he WAS driving like a cock. And people like that only get caught when they hit someone. Road deaths have fallen over the years. Mainly because children are no longer allowed anywhere near roads until they’re in their mid-teens. Cyclists have all but disappeared and the car has become an armoured box so few die when they crash any more. 
Now cyclists are returning to the roads, we need to realise that driver attitude – the aggression of the white-van tailgater the Audi driver who simply must get in front at all costs, is what needs to be tackled if the long-term decline in fatalities is to continue. We must also build infrastructure which allows people to take a vehicle which isn’t a car in safety. Otherwise we’ve just chased the pedestrian and cyclist off the roads, and congratulated ourselves for increasing safety, and a nation of fat, sedentary, mollycoddled drivers. The driver has assumed he owned the road for too long. The roads must be taken from the driver and given back to people, whatever means of transport – shoe, bike, motorbike, horse or car, they choose for their journey.
My fellow delegates may have lacked the aggression of the true driving twat (those people aren’t given the option of the course), but they did all share the assumption that the car is vital, and there is no other option. That too needs to change. Let’s start building towns and cities around people, not cars. Finally we need to deal with driver behaviour that isn’t simply speed. Unfortunately, both of those seem to require more work and flexibility than the police or local authorities possess.

Why I don’t Read The Papers…

A burglar asked to be sent to gaol because his probation appointments were at 10am and they were interrupting his sleep…. Of course we’re invited to hate the guy;

Shameless Batchelor told the judge he failed to attend the meetings because they were too early in the morning – despite being at 10AM.

The courtroom conversation is dutifully reported in full by the Daily Telegraph;

“I’d rather go to jail and get it out the way, come out and get a fresh start, and not have to do probation and things like that.”
Mr Herbert asked Batchelor: “Have you given up on the order?”
He replied: “Yes.”
Matthew Barnes, prosecuting, told the court: “He has told me that he has insufficient motivation to attempt to comply with the order.
“He is resigned to the suspended sentence being imposed.”

And fair enough, he’s a burglar. So my sympathy is limited. But he’s got a job, working nights and doesn’t finish until 6am, so he’s clearly got a chance of “going straight”. And under those circumstances, 10am probation seems unreasonable. Yet we, the taxpayer have to pay for gaol? Once again, the convenience of the bureaucracy trumps the convenience of those using the “service” and the costs are completely ignored. And someone who knows, agrees: probation officer and blogger, Jim Brown:

it’s the supervising officer who should be being pilloried, not the client. In my humble opinion a young man has needlessly gone to prison, not as a result of any new offences, but because of piss-poor practice. In all honesty a case like this takes my breath away. I can only contemplate as to the content of the Breach Report. What on earth was the Barrister doing to earn his or her money? Why didn’t the Judge use some initiative and demand to speak to the Probation Court Duty Officer? Had I been the said CDO, there is no way I would have allowed this case to proceed without intervening.

The papers lie to you, often by omission or sleight of hand. I didn’t notice that he had a job until the second time I read the piece. You’re being manipulated, people.

When the Law’s an Ass, Try a Nudge.

The motorway speed limit of 70mph is probably the most widely ignored law in the UK. Even when there’s a police car, they do 68mph, you pass them at a stately 72 or so before putting your foot down again. Almost everyone drives on a clear motorway between 70-90mph. This is because cars have got safer and faster. Brakes and Tyres are better.

However average speeds have been dropping recently (and this has led to a reduction in fatalities). The reason has nothing to do with policing, which has been reduced, and certainly nothing to do with enforcement as the Motorway network does not have fixed speed cameras. It is a combination of high fuel prices and the fact modern cars tell you how much fuel you’re using as you’re going along.
Does anyone else try to keep the MPG above 40 on a motorway cruise? If you realise that you double your miles per gallon by dropping from 85 to 70 mph, you’re more likely to set the cruise control at the lower speed and relax. The best thing about this is there’s no government campaign. Private business has given people a data point they’d previously only considered in abstract, and customers respond. The speed limit should be 80mph or higher and enforced strictly.

90% of Parents are worried about….

There’s a “report” doing the rounds of the media this morning from The Chartered Institute of Marketing. The press association report is here, and given the utter failure of anyone in the mainstream media to apply anything approaching critical thought, I thought I’d give it a go.

Most parents remain concerned about the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood a year after an independent review of the pressures on children growing up, a study finds.

Nine in 10 parents (90%) still think there are problems with the way some companies advertise to children…

I’d want to know how the question was asked. “Do you think sexualised advertising should be targeted at young Children” followed by “are you concerned about this?” which is clearly leading. Of course no newspaper or TV channel asks these (to me) obvious questions; this is why the Main Stream Media news is a dead-industry-walking. It’s clear, though to anyone capable of abstract thought the pollsters are probably looking for the answer they’ve already picked.

…and 85% are unaware of the dedicated complaints and advice website ParentPort, according to a poll for the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)

Did ParentPort have any input into this “report”? I think we should be told.

The survey comes a year after the report by Mothers’ Union chief executive Reg Bailey, entitled Letting Children Be Children, which called on businesses and broadcasters to play their part in protecting young people from the “increasingly sexualised wallpaper surrounding them”.

Parents remain most concerned about sexually explicit outdoor advertising, marketing during children’s TV programmes and inappropriate products for children, such as padded bras, the poll says.

Of course if Padded bras for young children didn’t sell, then companies wouldn’t make them. You do, of course have the right to NOT BUY PADDED BRAS FOR YOUR TODDLER, or complain to the manager of the store where they’re sold. And why is the Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union called ‘Reg’?

Of course, little girls love shiny things and bright clothing. They like dressing up like adults and playing with mummy’s makeup (usually with messy results – lipstick’s a bastard to get out of a carpet) The “sexualisation” of kids is more about adult’s view of kids than kids’ views of sex. Recently, when I was swimming in a public pool, a 3-year old stripped off, squealing with delight as she was chased round the pool by a red-faced father carrying a swimsuit. This isn’t sexual behaviour, she was just enjoying a game of chase. She doesn’t have a view of sex, yet. It doesn’t stop society seeing her as a sexual object. This is the downside of the paedo scare, and probably more harmful to childrens’ development than a Rihanna video.

Targeting children on Facebook and in stores are other significant concerns.

Children should be 13 years old before they have a facebook account. This is unenforceable, but it really is up to parents to monitor what kids do online.

The CIM is calling on the Government to work directly with the marketing industry to “deal with these pressing issues once and for all”.

Anyone calling on the Government to “work with them” is a demand for money, power or both.

David Thorp, director of CIM research, said: “It’s clear that parents still have very real concerns about the way some companies try to sell to children. The marketing profession needs to address these concerns but we also want a dialogue between parents, the Government and industry bodies to ensure that our solutions are lasting and effective.


The advertising that parents see and worry about is only the visible tip of the iceberg. Marketing runs much deeper and touches on every part of product development, buying and placement. Our research shows parents trust and respect the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) as a regulatory body but the ASA is only able to tackle part of the problem. By looking at the often-invisible marketing decisions which lead to the creation of products like padded bras for children, we can treat the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.

The cause of the market for padded bras for children, who have no money of their own, is poor parenting by people who buy padded bras for children. But seeing as girls are developing breasts as young as eight or nine, are we talking about “padded bras” or “foam cups”? If your girl is developing breasts, you need to buy her a bra. This too need not be a sexualised event. That it is, says more about the adult than the little girl.

“We need to ensure that every decision that companies take about marketing to children is responsible and appropriate. Parents should never have to react to inappropriate marketing. The Chartered Institute of Marketing wants to sit down with the Government to provide clarity and leadership for the marketing profession.”

“We” Who’s ‘we’?. Who decides what appropriate marketing? Ah… I see, the Chartered institute of marketing sees the secure funding of the Advertising Standards Authority, and wants some of that love.

The ASA said: “The work that regulators, including the ASA, continue to undertake in responding positively to the recommendations in the Bailey review (Letting Children Be Children) has been welcomed by government as well as family and parenting groups.”

A bunch of nanny state ninnies have asked for more laws. A professional association has seen an opportunity to become a regulator.

A non-story. If you don’t like a product, don’t buy it for your daughter. If you’re offended, complain to the store, or launch a boycott. Please don’t ask for more unenforceable law or give a professional association statutory powers they don’t deserve. Multiply the regulatory approach across an economy and you regulate innovation away, resulting in stagnation. Make parents take responsibility for their offspring, don’t make me pay for the ad-men in tax as well as prices.

The current scare about ‘Sexting’ is likewise ridiculous. Kids aren’t allowed out, mainly because of the paedo-scare. Behaviour, Dr’s & Nurses; Show me yours, I’ll show you mine; early-teen sexual fumbling and so on used occur behind the bike shed. It now happens over mobile and social networks. It happens earlier because the surge of hormones leading to feelings about the opposite sex happens earlier. This isn’t a major danger. Some sad old men get hold of some of the pictures and masturbate. Meh. They’re miles away. If you’re desperately worried, don’t give your kid a data tarriff on their mobile phone, and MONITOR WHAT THEY’RE DOING ONLINE. It’s called parenting. It’s not easy, but it’s not the state’s job either.

Harsh, I know. But the state is almost never the answer to this sort of thing.

Police: Not Even Pretending Any More

If anyone is in any doubt what’s wrong with the British Police, Inspector Gadget should dispel those doubts today. Institutionally, they have absolute contempt for the people they’re supposed to serve. This is why they should under no account be armed. The guns they do have should be removed. Use the Army when you need to shoot someone, because the police can’t be trusted to not shoot someone “armed” with a table-leg.

Contrary to Gadget’s claims that the police are “on the front-line, battling scum armed only with an aluminium stick” the truth is, the Policing in Britain is not a dangerous job. It doesn’t even make the top twenty. Fishermen, soldiers, scaffolders and Bicycle couriers all face a greater risk of death or serious injury. Arming the police would only result in more heavilly armed scallywags. Anyone think it’s a good idea?

Gadget’s response to Galloway’s win in the Bradford west by-election:

No one really minds when an extremist makes it to the local council, or as a one-term MP during an unpopular parliament. Their ability to influence events is minor; there are always other councillors or MP’s to provide a firewall.

His view is that democracy is OK, so long as it doesn’t take any important decisions. He goes on about “the swamp”, whines about the bureaucracy, disrespects his superiors and demonstrates contempt for both democracy and the chain of command, yet wants me to let him have a GUN? No WAY! Because I know who that gun will be pointed at, and it isn’t the armed scallywags from the Swamp estate (they’re too much work for our brave plod, when armed with just a machete). It will be me, next time I point out that “I didn’t actually swear there, officer. You imagined it, and I have video and audio to prove it. Would you like to hear then retract your allegation and threat of arrest?”

Yet the police still cruise around in their cars tooled up like the walter-mitty wannabe soldiers they really wish they were in their stupid, high-viz assault vests; yet refuse to investigate crimes adequately; blaming the CPS for their shitty “investigations”. They blame refusal to patrol “swamp estates” on lack of manpower, yet I see dozens cruising on foot in areas frequented by pretty tourists, harassing smokers for stepping over a line with a pint glass in their hands. Dozens waste whole days pointing speed guns at motorists, yet refuse to take action on clear video evidence of dangerous driving. Whatever the solution to crime and disorder in Britain right now, whatever the police are doing AIN’T IT. This is a complacent organisation riven with contempt for the people it’s supposed to serve, which has for decades been given too much power; power which has utterly corrupted them. Believe me, their contempt for the public is returned, in spades. The only people who still “support” the police, are those who’ve had no contact with ’em.

Elected police commissioners does not mean the “politicisation of the Police”. It means that someone chosen other than by a cozy meeting between establishment players nodded through by toothless local “democracy” will have actual power over the Police and their priorities. The people might actually get their voices heard when they feel totally let down because they know to whom to write. Galloway may be a rabble rousing dictator-and-terrorist apologist, but so’s Ken Livingstone and the Met police didn’t fall to pieces under him. Indeed, the police seem to prefer Livingstone with whom they seemed to find much in common, to the much more activist and liberal Boris. The police Nationwide are going to be accountable to people again – yes the people might elect Galloway to run a police force. He may even be good at it – the record will show. If he’s not, he gets booted out.

Stand by, Gadget, you anti-democratic cryptofacist. You may not like the decisions “the people” make. That’s the point. YOU are not, nor should you be, in charge. You are MY servant, and I am NOT accountable to you. Do you want to know what a country looks like when the police ARE in charge? Myanmar, Aparthied South Africa, The Soviet Union (Russia now?). They’re all shitholes. If the Police’re against something, it’s probably a good idea. QED.

The police are stupid, lower middle-class, pig-ignorant, doughnut-munching filth; a Provisional wing of the Daily Mail; at once bullying and ineffectual. The British police now wear black shirts. They’re not even pretending any more.

Victim’s “Justice”

So a Private Investigator retained by the Whore’s Gazette listened into the Voice-mail messages. This included Slebs: (meh), Politicians (double Meh… indeed this is the very definition of “investigative journalism”). However they did not stick to people in the public eye who should know better; They listened into the voice mails of the (then) missing schoolgirl, Milli Dowler and some of the victims of the 7/7 Bombings, which is pretty despicable, especially as in the former case, it appeared the fact the messages were being opened misled the police and gave sadly false hope to the Dowler family. It goes without saying that this is pretty appalling behaviour, against a number of data-protection & misuse of information laws. It’s also potentially perverting the course of justice. This doesn’t need any extra legislation, or even an emergency debate in parliament (politicians’ phones were involved… they’re pissed off. Sod ’em) Just enforce the laws against the individual PI involved. As for Milliband Minor’s ridiculous demand for an enquiry into “media ethics” – I find the sight of people jumping onto a bandwaggon to serve their partisan interests at the cost of dealing with some real underlying issues, distasteful.

It’s worth pointing out though: This isn’t “HACKING” which involves listening to conversations, something a family member of a Tube-bombing victim openly implied this morning on the ‘Today’ program, without being corrected. If you don’t have a PIN number on your inbox, spend a couple of minutes NOW and put one on. Bingo: the News of the World can’t get at your messages.

It’s not just politicians milking this for all it’s worth. There are two factors at play. This is being given wall to wall coverage on the BBC (but not SKY), and all the papers (except News International titles) because the BBC and fleet-street want to bash their competitors, and especially don’t want News International to buy the portion of BSkyB it doesn’t already own. This is a brute commercial consideration: Newspapers are barely profitable, and struggling. Hurting a competitor might help a bit & sell some papers in the process. For the BBC, it’s defending it’s patch against an increasingly influential and aggressive SKY news. The DG has even put his name to a letter opposing the purchase, which rather put his organisation’s cards face-up on the table. The BBC is even alleging that Murdoch is not “fit & proper”, something which isn’t in the scope of the decision to allow SKY to buy BSkyB. It’s an abuse of its position for the tax (the license fee is a tax in all but name) funded BBC to report in such a self-serving way in a story with a such clear conflict of interest.

There is also a residual leftism of the organisation which would love to make the most of the resignation of Andy Coulson from David Cameron’s team. If you listened to the BBC this morning, you’d think he was still there spinning for the Government, instead of having already fallen on his sword over this issue five months ago. The guy’s already gone. It’s a non-issue for the Prime-Minister.

Finally, this is being run in the media together with the issue of the treatment of the Dowler family at the hands of the defence barrister, and of the issues this story raises, this is the most dangerous. “Victim’s justice” isn’t justice at all. I’m the first to call the police, and the entire criminal justice system “useless” but the fact remains a standard defence in court is “I didn’t do it” and therefore the implication is that someone else did. By introducing reasonable doubt, certainly guilty people have got off. But I’d rather 10 guilty men go free (and they do) than one innocent man go to gaol because the police were allowed to fix the usual suspects up, or the defence had its’s hands tied by laws which prevented relevant questions being asked. As far as sentencing goes the people who should have NO say in the punishment are the victims. The only people I can think of who are worse are politicians. Sentencing should be for the Judge who’s seen the evidence acting according to law and precedent.

Here’s a picture of a Gavel, to annoy ‘The Magistrate‘.

This rush to protect victims in court is going to lead (rightly) to challenges by guilty people on the basis that their defence was hamstrung and may lead to MORE guilty people getting away with it. This is nothing more than an assault on the presumption of innocence. If you’re in court, and expect to see a criminal put away for a long time, expect him to fight – there’s a chance the man in the dock DIDN’T do it. It’s up to the prosecution to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. Lazy investigations, sloppy legal work and all the hallmarks of state-run ANYTHING: time-serving incompetence, are responsible for more miscarriages of justice than overzealous defence barristers who remain a mere scapegoat for incompetent prosecutions.

Hard cases make bad law. One horrible case with a vile defendant should not remove the rights of people to defend themselves vigorously in court, and be presumed innocent until they’re proven guilty.

The Banality of Evil

Hiding behind “lack of discretion to give warnings”, brave customs officials pounced on a wicked Farmer who mows a local football pitch once a fortnight. For free.

Because he’s a farmer, the fuel ALREADY IN THE TRACTOR’S TANK will be cheaper, low-duty red diesel. This however can, by law only be used for farming, or forestry purposes. So Mr Thorne is breaking the law, by mowing a football pitch, for free, once a fortnight, unless he siphons off the red Diesel in the tractor, replacing it with normal diesel to do the job.

I can understand if red diesel was being used for commercial lawn-mowing. I can understand why farmers are expected to put normal diesel in their cars. (Surely wouldn’t it be better to remove the whole invitation to fraud and oppressive inspection and enforcement by simply refunding farmers’ fuel duty, if such a subsidy is necessary?). however any law which says a farmer cannot use his vehicle, normally used for farming, for the benefit of the community without being fined £250, it is the law that is wrong, not the guy helping out Hartland Football Club.

The question I’d like to ask Bob Gaiger, the nasty, petty-minded little Gauleiter of an HMRC spokesman who pointed out, as if it were some kind of explanation, that revenue & customs officers “had no choice in the matter”, whether he thought this was an appropriate use of HMRC officers’ time. Who, pray, is he protecting by this zealous law-enforcement? If Government, as we are so often told, is there to help, protect and support the people (ha!), who benefits? Not the local kids, whose football pitch will no longer get mowed for free. Nor the revenue, whose officers will be paid more than the £250 it raised in fines. Certainly not Mr Thorne who’s just had his money taken from him otherwise his tractor would have been impounded.

Do you think a reasonable person (i.e. not a despicable little state apparatchik) thinks Gritting the roads for free is an acceptable use of Red Diesel? Who benefits from this? A local community in a remote rural area, down the bottom of the list of destinations for the Council-run gritters. Of course All it requires is that the law allow Farmers to use red diesel for non-profit, or occasional community support activity, so long as this is not the main use of the vehicle, and allow the Customs officials a bit of discretion in deciding who is taking the piss, and who is helping their local community.

Nothing annoys me more than officials’ overzealous enforcement of rules. This may give satisfaction to the kind of dull-minded inadequates who populate the civil service, but is exactly what makes people resent the state and it over intrusive interest in people’s lives. The same people who think that fining a farmer for mowing a football pitch are the same people who think locking up opposing politicians is “just doing their job” because the state says so. “Banality of Evil” is a phrase first used by Hannah Arendt of Adolf Eichmann, who wrote that states can achieve great evil only by normalising the actions which lead up to it. It’s a warning that just because something is written in Law, doesn’t make it right. The law has only a passing, tangential relationship with justice. Banal, unimaginative people in a sensible state like the UK may only be fining farmers a few quid for a minor transgression such as using red diesel to grit the roads or mow a sports pitch, but this is of negative utility. No-one benefits. Indeed a number of people’s lives are made a bit worse. Villagers who can’t get to town until the council get round to gritting the road near them, or a sports team whose game subs have to go on commercial lawn-mowing, not an end of season piss-up. The HMRC should not be in the business of preventing people helping out their neighbours. No-one should pretend that this is the same as the people who enforced the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi for example, but it’s on the same slope. Someone who is capable of enforcing such a manifest, if petty injustice, is capable of much, much worse.

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, so Bob Gaiger and your ilk: we have our eyes on you, you banal, unimaginative, vile, totalitarian squit.

The War on Drugs: The Dam is Breaking.

So, following the rare outbreak of sanity earlier this year from our very own Bob Ainsworth, a few more serious people have put their heads above the parapet and called for an end to the War on Drugs. This time the signatories include the former President of Columbia, who you’d think knew a thing or two about the subject, George Shultz, Javier Solana and Kofi Annan. This adds to the declaration by Juan Manuel Santos, the current Columbian president that he would “not be against decriminalisation”. It’s not just international NGO grandees and superannuated politicians either. Law Enforcement against Prohibition now boasts thousands of members. Several unserious people added their voice too. A few Countries around the world are decriminalising drugs, and not seeing their societies collapse into anarchy, though the US ensures that outright legalisation is off the table for the time being, and the White House described the report as “misguided” it is clear the it is standing Canute*-like against a rising tide.

Whatever Gil Kerlikowske thinks, the dam is cracking in the global establishment position that drugs eradication by interdiction of supply is the best means to mitigate the harms of illegal drugs. The evidence is mounting that supply cannot be interdicted in any meaningful way, and that most users do not cause problems.

There are still pillars of resistance which will remain standing long after the cracks become a flood. The law-enforcement community has invested huge sums in prohibition, and vast bureaucracies, some with global reach like the DEA which have huge lobbying power, will resist decriminalisation, which amounts to a declaration that 40 years of effort and sacrifice from their officers has been a failure at best, and probably massively counter-productive.

Our own dear Inspector Gadget condemns the “well heeled” who call for the legalisation of drugs, arguing that “the reality” of drug use amongst the criminal underclass is different. Of course, if poor people admit to drug use, they get locked up. Unlike Dame Judi Dench or Sting.

“At least when it’s illegal we can do something about it, unlike the widespread alcohol abuse which causes so much damage to society.”

He says. Of course, it may not be the Police’s role to “do something” about drugs and alcohol apart from locking up problem users who nick things or beat each other up. Just because something is bad, or harmful, it doesn’t follow that it should be illegal. Much of the crime associated with drugs is either 1) acquisitive crime to fund a habit. or 2) violent crime as dealers defend their patch.

The law enforcement communtiy is not known for radical thinking, and has a lot of political capital tied up in prohibition, not to mention jobs and funding. Their knee-jerk response to any call for decriminalisation is to condemn it as “misguided” or “dangerous” and to dismiss the person making the call as a (probably drug-addled) crank. Such reports as today make this approach more difficult, and the truth is coming out: Legalised drugs would reduce the cost, reducing the level of acquisitive crime needed to fund habits. It would eventually eliminate drug related violent crime as dealers would be undercut by the local legal supplier. Booze may cause fights, but it’s not the publican beating up the manager of the local branch of Sainsbury’s.

But wouldn’t legal drugs be more available? No. Drugs are easier to get hold of (especially after hours) than Alcohol in most urban areas. In terms of oblivion per buck, Heroin’s cheaper than booze. If anything a legal supply chain would REDUCE availability to problem users.

But drugs are Harmful, wouldn’t legalising them mean more use, more addicts and be detrimental to society? That’s not the evidence of Portugal’s or any other decriminalisation experiment (the supply chain is still in criminal hands). In addition to the crime reduction, by imposing pharmaceutical standards on drugs, many of the medical problems associated with use will be reduced even more by legalisation and regulation as opposed to mere decriminalisation.

The fact supporters of continued prohibition must contend with, is, after 40 years of the ‘war on Drugs’ has failed. Coke, weed, heroin are more plentiful and cheaper than they have ever been. Whatever the answer to the “drug problem” more of the same ain’t it.

*Yes, I know Canute was making a point to his courtiers.