Howard Jacobson: 'Victory is ours,' declared the Mujahideen. 'Today, it's the M6. Tomorrow, the A6144!'

I don’t think 17 police cars were too many. If anything, I’d have liked a dozen more, and a helicopter

Share
Related Topics

Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels to "vex the world". Pope's target was "babbling blockheads". Those were the days. Though constitutionally more modest, less certain of our genius and more sceptical as to our effect – for the times we live in bruise easily – we share those great satirists' ambitions. If a writer can't vex the world a little every day, why would he bother to get up in the morning?

But satire when it descends to populist jeering – that's to say when it flatters the babbling blockheads rather than lambasts them – becomes a boorish, toothless and, on occasions, even a dangerous thing. There was a signal example of this last week in the wake of 17 police cars swooping on a suspect bus travelling along the M6 in Staffordshire.

Let me remind you of what this was all about. A passenger on the bus saw smoke coming from another traveller's bag. He didn't scream. He didn't try to jump out of the bus. He didn't tweet a fond farewell to his loved ones. He dialled 999 on his mobile phone. Highly commendable. Isn't this what mobile phones are for? That the police responded promptly to the call was highly commendable, too. We hear of 999 calls going unheeded. The operator could have said, "Oh, yeah, pull the other one. This is Staffordshire, mate. Nothing happens in Staffordshire."

So far, then, so good. A highly suspicious bag – I don't have to remind readers of this column that most bags don't smoke – was spotted by an alert member of the public who did the sensible thing, and the police responded sensibly in their turn. Or did they? This is where the jeerers, of whom one of the most obdurate and vociferous has been Nick Ferrari, shock-jock for LBC – don't ask me how I know this – saw their opportunity. Did it take 17 police cars, they wanted to know. Was it necessary for some of those police cars to contain armed marksmen? (Where the point of an unarmed marksman would be I don't know.) Weren't 13 fire engines 12 too many? Was it necessary to hold and body search 48 bus passengers – 48 "innocent" bus passengers, according to the Daily Mail? Did the police have to close the motorway, in the process stranding thousands of infuriated motorists who had Mock the Week to get home to. Cordons, cones, tents, decontamination units, for crying out loud! – all because, as it turned out, the smoking bag contained a fake cigarette.

The more primitive one's sense of humour, the more the contrast between a small cause and a large effect will strike one as amusing. A minor mishap creating major mayhem has been the staple of feeble sitcoms ever since the genre was invented. And so Nick Ferrari roared with that bumptious, plain man's outrage that early morning shock-jocks are obliged to manufacture to ensure their listeners don't nod off. It was a fake cigarette, for heaven's sake. A fake cigarette!!

One of his callers reasonably reminded him that the police didn't know that when they turned up at the scene. In the same spirit, I would remind the Daily Mail that the police didn't know that all 48 passengers were innocent. The justification for having police is that we sometimes need suspiciousness investigated. But Ferrari wasn't alone in finding the idea of precautionary zeal even more hilarious than the idea of mistaking a fake cigarette for a real bomb. All the police had to do was ask, the jeerers jeered.

Ask? Ask! It was hard to believe one's ears. Did they mean a single bobby should have tailed the bus on his bicycle, flagged it down at the lights, boarded it with apologies all round, and asked the owner of the suspicious bag – nicely – if he was a terrorist and whether that was a bomb he was carrying? Yes, that was exactly what they did mean. And if it had turned out to be a bomb? But it wasn't, for crying out loud. It was an electronic cigarette. And how were the police to know that? By asking!

How to explain this circle of moronic illogicality? I cannot. Perhaps some people lack a conditional tense or a suppositional gene. Perhaps they lack an imagination of disaster.

Myself – and I accept I speak as someone with a highly developed imagination of disaster: but then history is on my side – I don't think 17 police cars were too many. If anything, I'd have liked a dozen more, and a helicopter, if there wasn't one there already, and a fleet of ambulances, and a marksman (ideally armed) on every roof in Staffordshire. Were terrorism only the figment of our fears, it could be argued that this was an over-reaction, but where it is both a proven fact and a fervently declared ambition there is no such thing as over-reaction.

It's sometimes said that when we go in like this, with cop car sirens blaring and the emergency services at the ready, we hand victory to the terrorists. For this contention to be plausible, we have to imagine al-Qa'ida operatives in Tora Bora tuning in to LBC and rubbing their hands at the thought of the M6 in Staffordshire being closed for half a day. "Victory, fellow Mujahideen, is ours! Tomorrow, we will see how many lanes we can shut down on the A6144." But then I suppose global Jihad has to start somewhere.

Yes, there a few jumpy weeks ahead. Just getting people to the Games is going to be taxing, let alone getting them there safely. I'm staying home. Though even that might not be the end of it. Smoke issuing from my ears, if I happen to hear any more bilge about over-reaction, might alert a neighbour who might alert the authorities who might choose to drop paras on my terrace. It's the price you pay. Only a babbling blockhead would complain.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
Rebekah Brooks after her acquittal at the Old Bailey in June  

Rebekah Brooks to return? We all get those new-job jitters

John Mullin
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future