990719.2257 watermill , st mary’s
the lead item on the bbc six o’clock news this evening was the blair government’s proposal to introduce legislation making it possible to imprison those identified as suffering from < personality disorders > for indefinite periods . ingenious eh , a justice system so advanced you don’t even have to wait for people to commit crimes , let alone worry about proving their guilt , before banging them away . whilst incarcerated these fortunate souls will be treated to < intensive therapy > through the generosity of the british tax-payer .
i feel kind of nervous when i hear stuff like this . i mean , < personality disorders > is a pretty elastic concept . what’s the difference between this and a license to lock up anyone you like for as long as you like , pump them full of drugs , poke around inside their head , make them watch end-to-end reruns of the waltons ? the bbc exercised its firm commitment to balanced reporting by asking mr jack straw , home secretary , whether this might not be considered by some extremists as an infringement of human rights . < ah > said mr straw in a headmasterly way < but everyone in society has a right to life and this legislation will protect that > . the reporter nodded understandingly , visibly relieved that there was nothing to worry about after all .
i first saw this proposal floated back in the spring . the government generally approaches its more questionable ambitions by blessing some craven journalist with a sneak preview of their thoughts ( unattributable , of course ) . they then watch the public reaction very closely . if it goes down smoothly they smile benevolently and get making with the laws . if , however , there’s anything of a stir , they retreat to a bunker and start working out how to create a more agreeable climate . the bbc can usually be relied on to lend a hand with the odd news story , an eastenders plotline or a glossy documentary to inch things in the right direction . the press is ever so helpful of course . there are always captains of industry and august think-tanks willing to chip in with some research . best of all , encourage some half-assed pressure-group to demand just the legislation you want to bring in . and bob’s your uncle . suddenly something which appeared to be beyond the pale seems like it’s just what people wanted all the time . and you’ve hardly had to upset anyone along the way . a consensus , a nice warm feeling and whatever shaky laws you wanted in the first place .
you see , there’s nothing which spoils a government’s day like having to introduce unpopular legislation . the old-fashioned process of proposing your policy , going through a public debate then having people vote on what they want is so , well , unreliable . much better to decide what’s best , test the water , then make whatever adjustments to public opinion are needed .
that’s modern democracy .
and i’ve got a stinking cold dammit . pass the hankies …