Why would anyone want to live in the real world?

To politicians, the 'real world' is absolutely horrible, teeming with brutal criminality and aggressive drunks
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The Independent Online

Here in the real world, we enjoy nothing more than a really high-octane ruck. So we're terribly excited by the recent exchange of insults between Sir Oliver Popplewell, a retired judge, and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, which has apparently been conducted across the great divide between "the real world" and somewhere much less reliable.

The spat has come about in the run-up to the parliamentary vote on Mr Blunkett's Criminal Justice Bill next week. In it, the Home Secretary is trying to limit judicial discretion in sentencing murderers, and to wrest final decisions back into the hands of the Home Office. Asked about these plans on Radio 4's Today programme, Sir Oliver offered this insight into Mr Blunkett's thinking: "He is very upset that the judges have been over-ruling a great deal of Home Office legislation. It is very important, because they [government] draft these Bills and Acts incompetently, rush them through and then, when the judges say 'do it again better', they start complaining."

A recent article by Mr Blunkett was "full of whining about judges overturning what Parliament had enacted", Sir Oliver said. "That is the job of judges, to interpret the law, and if they think it is not working, say so.... Politicians hate people being independent." The new proposals were little more than a "populist gimmick".

Mr Blunkett responded in kind, by highlighting Sir Oliver's comments during a speech at the Police Federation conference in Blackpool and ridiculing Sir Oliver's view of life, as one obtained from his time at school, at university and in chambers. Mr Blunkett denied that he was influenced by populism and instead described his views as grounded in "decent common sense". He said it was "completely untrue" that he was not pleased with the judges. "I just like judges to live in the same real world as the rest of us."

Meanwhile, in another Bill, this one tackling antisocial behaviour, Mr Blunkett is extending four pilot schemes that have been using spot fines so that the police can tackle minor offences without going down to the station and filling in forms. In the pilot schemes, nine out of 10 of the fines issued have been for drunk and disorderly offences, with 44 per cent of them going unpaid.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, is upset about this; he told one newspaper that "if he expects a drunk teenager to give an accurate name and address and to stand and receive the equivalent of a parking ticket", then "the Home Secretary is not living in the real world".

So, there we are. The world that Sir Oliver lives in is not "the real world", according to Mr Blunkett. The world that Mr Blunkett lives in is not "the real world", according to Mr Hughes. Alas, the great spat suddenly seems less interesting, conducted as it was by two people of whom neither lives in "the real world" – two people, therefore, who might as well not actually exist.

So what is the real world, and where are the unreal worlds that these two coves are existing in? From Mr Blunkett's view of the judiciary, "the real world" appears to be a place where the murderers of children are patted sympathetically by judges and told not to do it again or they'll really be in trouble. From Mr Hughes's point of view, it is a place where drunk people are always so far beyond reason that nothing but a night in the cells and an appearance before the magistrate is going to sober them up.

What we can gather from this, in a general sense, is that "the real world" is absolutely horrible, teeming with unspeakably brutal criminality and aggressive drunks, and no place at all to bring up children, or even kebabs. How strange it is that such a premium should be placed on living in "the real world" when it is clearly apparent that only the most debased of human beings would actually want to live there, and only the most unfortunate would find themselves having to live there against their wills.

Which means, therefore, that the nearest thing we have in this country to "the real world" is actually the deprived world, a world that is feared and fearful, and at all not the sort of world at all that politicians should be clamouring to berate others for not inhabiting. And while this real world is not as large as it used to be – standards of living having risen considerably in Britain – it's still a world that is not only an affront to our wealthy nation but is also the place where all our fears reside.

Politicians are fond of reassuring us, for example, that it is not crime that is rising, but the fear of crime. People feel more and more that "the real world" is right outside their homes or right outside their cars, dangerous and dirty, hateful and inescapable, large and influential and very, very near.

The rich generally take the opportunity to cocoon themselves away from "the real world" as much as they can, which would seem a quite logical thing to do, perhaps even the sort of choice that would be made by any person in possession of Mr Blunkett's "decent common sense".

Even the most humble members of the middle class will fight tooth and nail to maintain a distance from "the real world" by paying through the nose to live in a "good" neighbourhood, sending their children to schools where the children of "the real world" are not in abundance and stumping up for health insurance just in case the local hospital turns out to be horribly "real". Nevertheless, despite all this insulation, these lucky people are often full of resentment about "the real world", convinced as they are that all of their taxes are being spent on its undeserving inhabitants, who are continually bent on ruining their own existences.

For those unable to buy themselves out of trouble, the next best thing is to lavish attention on home and garden, each thoughtfully decorated room and carefully tended plot or balcony a declaration of the desire to live a life that is private and safe, and insulated from the privations of "the real world" as much as it can be.

Yet while all those possessed of "decent common sense" are trying their very best to escape as much as they can from "the real world", politicians still believe that living in "the real world" is a badge of honour. This belief in the character-forming attributes of "living in the real world" they share with only a handful of other groups.

These are the people for whom being "streetwise" is all-important, and who see those around them, doing their utmost to make the best of a bad deal, as mugs. Deifying ignorance, admiring physical aggression, angry, resentful, destructive and dysfunctional, they may represent a tiny minority but they still manage to make "the real world" the soul-destroying place to live in that it is.

And who can blame them for their perverse and rebellious mentality, when it is apparent that their "real world" has such a special place in the hearts of politicians. It is odd indeed that, while he slaves away at identifying legal formulae that will bring swift or lasting justice to those who make the greatest contribution to making "the real world" so awful, Mr Blunkett still manages to suggest that there is some sort of rough-hewn glamour in "the real world", too. Maybe if Mr Blunkett decided that neither he nor Sir Oliver lived in "the real world", and that nobody else should be expected to either, then his policies would start to make more of a difference.