Natalie Haynes: Let's make cops out of cardboard



Sometimes, I find myself wondering what people at think-tanks do all day, and this is in spite of the fact that I have met some of them at parties. Dull parties, obviously, but parties nonetheless. Do they do more thinking than the rest of us? Because I do quite a bit of thinking in the average morning, and I often follow it up with an afternoon of daydreaming, which is what thinking looks like to the judgemental.

And yet, even after many hours of hard thought, I would never have come up with the kind of idea that the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange has proposed to increase police numbers. If police officers wear their uniforms as they commute to and from work, it has suggested, it would increase police visibility, and equate in London alone to an extra 1,200 officers on the streets.

So, just to clarify, for those of you who are reading this while trying to eat a piece of toast, send a couple of texts and find your keys all at once: police officers should wear their uniforms more of the time, as that is basically the same thing as having more police on the streets. And if they are driving an old Volvo to work, while wearing a stab vest and a police hat, that car is presumably now a police car. If they pick up a tree branch, that could work as an impromptu baton, since I think they have to leave the real ones at work when they're off duty. A well-aimed can of deodorant would surely double as pepper spray, and I don't see why they couldn't add a water pistol to the mix as well.

I think this might be the most heroically stupid idea I have ever heard. I realise that right-wing think-tanks have to square a love for cutting public spending with a fondness for having more riot-preventing police, but making off-duty policemen dress like on-duty policemen has, let's remind ourselves, literally no numerical impact at all. There are not more police officers than before. Not even one. There are precisely the same number of police officers as before, doing the same amount of policing, but now they all have more work-related laundry to do.

So what the Policy Exchange is really proposing is that the rest of us are so dense that we might be gulled into believing that more people wearing police uniforms at any one time is the same as more police. My boyfriend has played a policeman in virtually every TV series ever made: by their rationale, I should believe I live with an entire station full of coppers.

In a way, I'm most disappointed by their lack of ambition. Because here's something else which would increase police visibility: cardboard policemen. Loads of 'em. From a distance, or to the myopic, we could have 10 policemen on each street. Well, till it rains, anyway. Then, not so many.

And why such a limited scope as their commute, for extra police uniform-wearing? If they wore uniforms when they went to the shops, or to pick up their kids from school, we would have even more police officers. I might invest in a business making police uniform-pyjamas, then we could treble the night watch in a single day.

And here's another way we could add to our police numbers: more police dogs. I go to the park most days, and it is packed with dogs. One high-visibility vest each, and we could have millions of extra police dogs, only some of which would be those little guinea-pig ones, which don't really count.

The brevity of Barnes that should make him a winner

Today, the shortlist for the Booker Prize will be announced. I'm pinning my hopes on Julian Barnes, because I have been in love with him since I was 16. We haven't met, you understand. It's just a crush that has lasted more than half my life. Barnes's latest book, The Sense of an Ending, is a beautiful, tiny novel about the unreliability of memory. If it is shortlisted, and goes on to win, it will surely be the shortest book ever to do so, coming in at a mighty 150 pages.

I review quite a few books, and generally, the excitement of a free book far outweighs the slight sinking of spirits when it turns out to be 600 pages long, of which at least 200 could have been cut with no loss of plot, character or prose quality. Often, when my shelves get too full, I read purely on the basis of length and recyclability – if it is fat and can go to the charity shop, I will read it before books I want to keep, or which are elegantly concise. So here's hoping Barnes is heralding in a new era of brevity.

Can't we just throw these people to the lions?

The most depressing classical news story of the week is that there have been attacks on several of Rome's most important monuments. One man threw a rock at the Trevi Fountain, perhaps because Anita Ekberg had done him wrong. Or maybe he mistranslated the word "coin". Police also caught an American student clambering up the Colosseum with a chisel, trying to chip bits of the marble off for souvenirs.

I consider myself a reasonably tolerant person (other people don't, but screw them), yet I genuinely believe that if you wilfully damage something like the Colosseum, you should be deported, and possibly slapped. What on earth would you even do with a chip of marble once you had it? Display it in a cabinet as a sign of your utter contempt for history and world heritage? Rome isn't a theme park, it's living history, and people who treat it otherwise are almost, but not quite, beneath contempt.

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