Leading article: Mr Straw is teetering on the brink of self-parody

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The Independent Culture
WHAT IS it with Labour? Must they really keep telling us how to run our lives? Jack Straw's latest suggestion, that car-immobilisers should be made compulsory, teeters on the edge of self-parody.

Immobilisers are not in themselves a bad idea. But nobody should be forced to install one, any more than they are forced to install a burglar alarm. As with burglary, the possibilities of arm-twisting by the insurance companies are many - and legitimate. Smokers pay more than non-smokers do for health insurance; car-owners without immobilisers could pay more for car insurance. But they should not be prosecuted.

European law already requires that new cars should be manufactured with immobilisers installed. Fair enough. If you are shelling out thousands of pounds on a new car, the cost of an immobiliser is only a drop in the ocean of automotive expense. But drivers of older cars should not have to shell out for a product that they do not want. Drivers of older cars are likely to be less affluent than owners of new ones; and their cars, by virtue of their age, are in any case less likely to be stolen.

Mr Straw justifies the proposal by saying that the immobilisers would reduce costs for the police. That is true, as far as it goes. But why stop at immobilisers, in saving police time and energy?

The Government could make it compulsory to have steel grilles attached to all windows, to reduce the number of break-ins. The wearing of expensive watches in public places could be outlawed because of the danger of theft. And women could be put under curfew after dark, to reduce the time and money wasted investigating sexual assault. The Government could take credit for the new safety of the streets.

In his search for improved indicators, Mr Straw ignores the obvious, and only gives the Tories fresh ammunition for their attacks on the nanny state. Of course it costs money to prevent crime. But that doesn't give ministers the right to impose draconian and unneccessary measures on the public.