Lie detector tests on your taxes in Clegg's "war on middle-class", read one splash headline in Tuesday's national papers. It revealed that the deputy PM is keen to clamp down on anyone earning £150,000 or over who tries to avoid paying 50 per cent tax. It also revealed that Mr Clegg thinks lie-detector machines would be a good idea.
Can he seriously imagine that high-earning bourgeois professionals will meekly submit to being manhandled by robust men from private debt-collection agencies, to having electrodes clamped to their arms, nipples and main arteries so that, when they're asked about their income, they'd better tell the truth or the polygraph needle will skitter across the page like a deranged bluebottle and they will be identified as liars? Is he keen to see riots in the streets of Kent and Sussex?
As any fule kno, lie detectors have zero credibility in the scientific community. In most law courts they're not considered reliable guides to the truth, merely aids to guesswork and subjective opinion. They're accepted as a useful way of establishing the truth only in three areas. One is in fiction, as we know from a hundred spy stories and the movie Oceans 13. Another is in the nasty world of criminal interrogation, where the convergence of electrical equipment and human flesh is standard. The third is on The Jeremy Kyle Show, where the only way in which his low-life guests can "prove" they haven't been shagging their wives' sisters is by agreeing to apply the anti-bullshit electrodes.
This is the world to which Mr Clegg wishes to introduce the hard-working middle class, and perhaps it's mere snobbery that makes me turn up my nose at it. If the deputy PM believes an electric device could help us establish the Truth in this instance, maybe we could apply it to other areas. Is the Pope really sorry for the misbehaviour of Catholic priests on his watch? Enough journalistic speculation – send someone to Vatican City and plug in a polygraph without delay. Did Andy Coulson really have no idea that journalists on his payroll were tapping phones, morning, noon and night? Strap him to a chair pronto and check the movements of his blood pressure. Does the boss of the Pakistani Cricket Board know that the England team threw a match? We needn't stand around harrumphing about "groundless allegations" any more – just send someone to Karachi with a lie detector and demand that Mr Ijaz Butt removes his shirt.
It sounds crazy. But it might just work.
As someone who once ventured into a Cairo marketplace with a woman friend and watched aghast as she was propositioned, flattered, prodded and goosed by every man she walked past, I'm intrigued by the new anti-groping measures in Egypt. There's no law there against sexual harassment, but, given that a recent survey by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights revealed that 98 per cent of foreign women have been groped or verballed, enlightened figures think it's time something was done.
Hence HarrassMap, which works like this. A woman who's been the object of rudeness can send a text message to a centralised computer. She will "immediately receive a reply offering support and practical advice", while her text is used to build up a picture of the worst harassment areas. That's helpful, isn't it?
So when an Egyptian pinches your bottom henceforth, you send a text and get one back that says: "Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience. We are very much on your side. We advise you in future not to walk about with a bottom, a bosom and any flesh. By the way, do you have an unmarried sister?"
Crime imitates art
In a second-hand bookshop in Bridport, I discovered a first edition of John Fowles's The Collector. Published in 1963, it's one of the key novels of the Sixties: the story of a lonesome, butterfly-collecting nobody who admires a vivacious art student called Miranda, but hasn't a hope of a relationship with her because of his zero social skills.
He watches her from afar, and his obsession grows. When he wins a fortune on the football pools, he buys a house in the country, equips it with a cellar – then kidnaps the girl and keeps her there until she falls in love with him.
Of course, she doesn't – she tries to escape, tries to seduce him, plots to kill him – but eventually she sickens and dies, and he starts looking for another pretty brunette to "collect."
The alarming thing about The Collector is the number of homicidal nutters who've claimed it as an inspiration. In 1984, Christopher Wilder, the serial killer of several young girls, had a copy on his person when he shot himself. In 1985 Leonard Lake, obsessed by the book, abducted two teenagers, Kathy Allen and BrendaO'Connor, kept them in a soundproofed bunker and raped and tortured them with his associate Charles Ng. Lake called his abduction plot "Operation Miranda".
In 1988, Robert Berdella claimed that seeing the 1965 film of The Collector as a teenager had prompted him to imprison several girls and photograph their torture before killing them. We'll never know exactly what prompted Wolfgang Priklopil to kidnap the 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch on her way to school and imprison her in a custom-built basement for eight years. But I'd lay good money that The Collector had something to do with it. And now Emma Donaghue's Room, a novel based on the abduction and incarceration of a minor, is on the Booker prize shortlist – art reflecting life that itself reflected art.
There's one more interesting thing about The Collector: its protagonist's name. The inadequate City Hall clerk who dreams of hitting the big time by forging an artificial alliance with someone out of his class, is called Clegg.Reuse content