To be sure, this is a weird and wonderful country. The Great British public, it appears, has learnt to take politicians' marital break-ups, even nasty, vituperative ones, in its stride. It shrugs collectively when a senior minister leaves his wife for an adviser who lived in a lesbian civil partnership. But bring accusations of cheating speed cameras into the conversation and all that tolerance flies out of the window; the mood turns very ugly indeed.
Now, I have to admit to being an innocent in the matter of what, it transpires, is called "taking points". It never crossed my simple mind that if, as a driver, you have already notched up nine penalty points and a ticket drops on your mat threatening another three, the solution is to persuade someone else that they should save you from a ban. Yet, if you take a look at the statistics, and note the large gap between the nine-pointers and those who reach 12, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is exactly what is happening.
As analysts at the Automobile Association have observed, it seems unlikely that the vast majority of drivers who incur nine points suddenly slow down and turn into reformed characters – though some might. It seems more likely that they've managed to make the fatal three points "disappear" by, say, convincing their nearest and dearest to accept responsibility.
And even I can see that at least some of these nearest and dearest might well judge it to be in their interests to perpetrate this "little" deception. If losing one driver for three months is going to disrupt the family schedule (as well it might), if the insurance is held jointly (so that one penalty is inevitably going to be reflected in the premium for both), and if a ban – unlike a few speeding points – is a social black mark (which it is), then you can understand why it might seem to make sense.
The rationale goes something like this. Being caught on a speed camera is something that happens to everyone, is it not? And the proliferation of cameras loads the dice against the driver in a way that makes the game inherently unfair, doesn't it? And the real reason for the cameras isn't safety at all, is it? It's impecunious councils replenishing their coffers. "Taking points" becomes just an extension of this logic.
But it's not. In my book – and I seem to have about half the country on my side, but only half – there's a clear distinction between speeding (which is a motoring offence) and getting someone else, even if they are willing, to take the rap – which is dishonesty, deception, and a crime. Driving away after an accident crosses the same line from motoring to moral offence and crime.
I can't help feeling, though, that the authorities bear at least some of the blame. By delegating road policing to cameras, timing traffic lights in such a way that you can hardly avoid getting stuck in the box, not making the operating times of bus lanes clear, and making parking regulations so complicated that it's nigh impossible to comply – all this makes people feel that a malevolent bureaucracy has an unjust advantage.
When you learn, in addition, that the Prime Minister's office – no less – spent six years sending out letters from computer-generated (i.e. false) names, and is only ending the practice because it was rumbled, then it's hard not to conclude that the fish rots from the head, and that the authorities of any country have a moral climate they deserve.
This time we can't blame the social workers
Once upon a time there was a baby who was the pride and joy of his mother and her aunts. The father had died suddenly before he was born, but the female-only household was managing splendidly. Then one fine day, a team of social workers came along and decided that what was missing in this benign and peaceful household was, you've guessed it, a male presence, to bring – as it was said – stability and balance. A suitable candidate was identified, and the women were invited to get-to-know-you sessions on neutral ground.
Carefully, child and step-father were introduced. In the fullness of time, the new family was left to get along. At which point, a fight broke out over the cherished child, who was savaged by the male and died.
This wasn't a human family, of course. But it was almost the closest thing: they were gorillas at London Zoo. A well-known Canadian study, corroborated since by several others, found that human children living with one genetic and one non-genetic parent were at least 50 times more likely to suffer fatal abuse than children living with both genetic parents.
The zoo's dilemma – in trying to weigh the interests of the baby, the group and the zoo – might be different from that of social workers grappling with whether to remove a child from a suspected abuser, but why set out to create circumstances that were bound to be inherently dangerous?
It's called fixing the roof while the sun shines
Among its recommendations for reducing disruption caused by severe winter weather, MPs have proposed the appointment of a Snow Czar. Such a person, I imagine, would need excellent knowledge of "best practice", requiring past spells of residence in places where they have "proper" winter, and frequent "refresher" trips (at public expense) to such places as Switzerland, Scandinavia and Canada. S/he would need the latest in ski-wear, expertise in the technology of snow and ice clearance (from the latest in ploughs to the natty scrapers used by Westminster Council), and training in how to get the maximum number of planes airborne before the blizzard hits. You do this, incidentally, by ignoring the security bleeps and ID checks, pushing passengers through the gate, and getting the pilot to ask only when the plane is aloft: "Anyone here not going to Chicago? Well, you are now." Anyway, please accept this application – and note that I should be called Snow Czarina.