Friday, February 11, 2005

Miss Marple meets Taxi Driver

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Tory Blues

Imagine an English village. Cricket on the green. Blue skies. Red telephone box. The sun shining upon the ancient stones of the church, the mellow bricks of the rectory and the thatch of the cottages.

A bobby cycles into view. He stops at one of those cottages and makes his way through the hollyhocks to the front door. When it opens, he can’t help noticing the corpse stretched out in the hall

“What’s all this then, madam?” he asks. “It’s a burglar, Constable McNally,” she replies. “He broke in during the night and my husband shot him.” “In that case I won’t take up any more of your time,” replies the officer, and rides off.

It’s a curious world – Miss Marple meets Taxi Driver – but it seems to be the one the Tories want to live in. On Friday they turned out in force to support Patrick Mercer’s private members bill allowing householders to use anything short of “grossly disproportionate force” to tackle intruders.

Mercer was addressing a real problem: the fear of crime in rural areas where police are far away. But rather than proposing a practical solution, such as more special constables, he went off with the fairies.

People do worry they will end up in court after defending themselves against burglars, though the figures suggest they have little cause. But even under Mercer’s law they would face investigation if a burglar was killed or injured. No real officer would behave like our PC McNally. And what constitutes “grossly disproportionate force” would ultimately be decided by juries, so some cases would still go to court.

This episode illustrates the decline of the Conservatives. To be a Tory you have to rather like life the way it is. Newspapers still reflect this. Spend an hour with the Guardian and become depressed. Read the Daily Telegraph and you come away convinced the world is full of things to enjoy.

Tory politicians no longer feel that way. Some demand the impossible, always clamouring to “bring back” something – usually matron or the birch. Others stoke fears over crime or immigration and offer solutions as bizarre as Mercer’s.

Of the old Conservative Party – that collection of contented people with a fat stake in the status quo – there in now little sign.

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