Thomas Sutcliffe: Don't even think about it - or you're nicked!

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's the mark of a successful satire that it changes the way you see the world. In the immediate aftermath of The Thick of It, for example, many government pronouncements now tend to be accompanied in my mind by a lively playlet which fills out the back story of this policy initiative.

It certainly happened the other night when I caught a brief soundbite of Lord Falconer pitching the idea for super-Asbos or Voos (violent offender orders), which may introduce the novel concept of pre-emptive punishment to the British justice system. Those issued with the orders would have restrictions placed on their movement and social contacts, and if they breached them would face up to five years in prison.

"If there's evidence that you could commit a violent offence in the future," Lord Falconer told The Westminster Hour, "proper evidence, proved in a court ... then why shouldn't you be restrained from committing that violent offence? We're willing to do it in relation to Anti Social Behaviour Orders, why not in relation to other sorts of offence as well?"

The policy itself had the surreal brilliance of an Armando Ianucci riff. Of course! There we were thinking that the tough-on-crime political arms race only had one axis along which to move - from hug-a-hoodie to manual amputation for first time shop-lifters - and yet all along there was the unexplored dimension of time. Punish the criminals before they even commit the crime! Naturally Lord Falconer wouldn't want anyone getting carried away with fantasies about Minority Report seers. No, this was going to require "proper evidence, proved in a court".

It would have been interesting to hear him explain what would constitute "proper evidence" of a future crime - or indeed how anyone under suspicion could effectively prove they weren't going to offend. But this was just a soundbite - so there was only time for Lord Falconer to point out a consoling precedent - a contentious measure introduced by his own government.

A more detailed report in the Sunday papers explained that police and probation services would apply for orders in the civil courts, where the threshold of proof is lower, and that hearsay evidence would be admissible. Presumably expert witness would play its part too - since it has proved invaluable in the past in bridging that gap between suspicious prejudice and a guilty verdict.

And, since Lord Falconer was in the mood for rhetorical questions, why draw the line at violent offenders? If Asbo's provide a precedent for Voos, then surely Voos can provide a precedent for other exercises in preventative justice. I reckon I could predict with considerable confidence the type of drivers likely to break the speed limit, so pre-emptive speeding fines for anyone with bolt-on spoilers might be one idea. Or on-the-spot house arrest for large groups of women wearing deely-boppers and hen-night T-shirts?

What Thick of It scene preceded the announcement of this legal equivalent of monkey tennis, though? Was Lord Falconer hoping to distract attention from the Home Office's embarrassments with criminals who actually have committed crimes? Did he find the policy cupboard bare and simply panic? Or was he obligingly floating a potential Blair legacy policy to see whether it might fly? After several hours of dazed speculation I still can't come up with a satisfactory script. All I know is that it shouldn't be the ambition of any government to render political satire redundant.

Smirk, hit the host, or walk out...

Congratulations to Preston (lead singer Ordinary Boys, graduated with first-class honours, Celebrity Big Brother 4) for walking out on a recording of Never Mind the Buzzcocks after its host Simon Anstell sneeringly read out a passage from the autobiography of Preston's wife Chantelle.

The obligation to be a good sport now requires celebrities to absorb a certain amount of jocular abuse, but it surely doesn't mean they have to collude in insulting the people they care about. Faced with a man mocking his wife for her humble origins, Preston, left, had only three options: to smirk ingratiatingly; to punch Anstell on the nose; or to leave them all to it. Given the circumstances, he took the most dignified course available.

* The stand-up comedian Shazia Mirza has apparently taken a New Year's resolution to give up depilation - citing a lifetime battle with wayward hair.

"It's about time hair on women was celebrated, not condemned," she says. "A woman can definitely be sexy in a pair of Jimmy Choos and a pair of hairy legs."

Well, good luck to her as far as the social construct goes, but I fear that she and her online cheerleaders may have underestimated the degree to which any socially-constructed notion of beauty rests on foundations that aren't always susceptible to cultural re-engineering. The ideal of the glabrous women is so consistent through different cultures and different ages that the suspicion arises that it must have been cemented into place by a hard-wired evolutionary preference.

If you want to know why so many women shave their legs you need to remember that - at some level - all men are animals.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Comments