I was once having dinner with a prominent Tory politician when a car alarm went off outside the restaurant. For some time we tried to ignore the banshee wail but it was a warm night and the windows were open. Eventually, the MP turned and glared in the direction of the offending vehicle. "Why," he asked in pained tones, "doesn't someone steal that fucking car?" I mention this story because it illustrates the fact that even the most law-abiding citizen - and few of us are as law-abiding as a former Conservative minister - does not always react vigorously to the possibility that a crime is being committed in the vicinity.
The point that false alarms happen all the time was made last week by Aaron Barschak, the heroically eccentric figure who gatecrashed Prince William's 21st birthday party in June, dressed as Osama bin Laden - always assuming that the fugitive terrorist's wardrobe includes a pink satin ball-dress. (There is photographic evidence that OBL's crimes against taste include wearing loon pants, during a youthful trip to Sweden, but I cannot see him in pink.) Responding to a report that severely criticised police officers on duty at Windsor Castle, the self-styled "comedy terrorist" could have added that any officer spotting him on CCTV that night might reasonably have assumed he was one of William's louche friends.
No one has described what the bona fide guests were wearing, although it is impossible to hear the phrases "Royal Family" and "Out of Africa dress code" without a shudder; I think we can assume that the Prince's grandfather, with his interesting views on foreigners, felt quite at home. It is also worth pointing out that the atmosphere in this country is different from the US, where a massive power cut on Thursday triggered fears of a new terrorist attack. (Hi guys, welcome to the Baghdad Experience.) I do not often find myself in sympathy with the police, but it does seem that the royals made their job as difficult as possible on this occasion, refusing to hand over a guest list until the day of the event and insisting on "low-key" policing. Royal bodyguards are said to have been excluded from the Waterloo Chamber, where Mr Barschak interrupted William's speech, and a security camera was rendered useless when a contractor's vehicle was parked in front of it.
With astonishing ingratitude, the Prince has apparently complained about having round-the-clock police protection and his father has held urgent talks with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens. This is further evidence that William is a chip off both the old blocks, not just his perpetually whingeing father but his fruitcake mother, whose decision to dispense with her Scotland Yard bodyguards was not the smartest move she made. Speaking of the late Princess, anyone who was taken in by claims that she was going to raise her sons in an unstuffy, democratic way should have a look at the cover of Vanity Fair. It is hard to imagine a more self-regarding image than William posing in white tie and tails, apparently trying to impersonate his intellectually challenged great-great-uncle, the future Duke of Windsor, circa 1933.
In one of those fits of royal arse-licking to which it is regrettably prone, the Government responded to last week's "damning" report by confirming that eight police officers are under disciplinary investigation and announcing that tactical nuclear weapons will be deployed at future royal parties to avoid the risk of comic embarrassments. OK, I made the last bit up, but the Government is being asked to consider creating a specific new offence of trespassing into secure royal premises. This assumes that OBL's followers regard the law with rather more respect than they have hitherto demonstrated: "Sorry, Osama, old boy, I don't mind a bit of suicide-bombing, but I absolutely draw the line at trespass".
It also misses the central point about this hilarious episode, which is the question of why taxpayers should foot the bill for protecting a private event. Clearly the young royals have yet to grasp the distinction between a state occasion, when it could be argued that we have an obligation to protect them, and a birthday party. If the Prince is not happy with police protection, he could perfectly well hire a security firm, like any other hooray Henry who wants to entertain his ghastly friends. I'm sure Mr Barschak would be delighted to test the security arrangements in another of his wonderfully imaginative costumes.Reuse content