*Good to see Boris back in the D T*
**Lucky Cherie to have bumped in to him**
You know, I have always had a soft spot for Cherie Blair. You may think I am mad, but I have resented the attacks on her, and suspected that it is to do with the jealousy that surrounds a successful, high-earning woman who possesses a mind of her own.
Good on you, Cherie, baby, I say to myself, when I read about her interest in New Age crystals and her showers with Carole Caplin. Don’t you take any notice, girl, I say, when people make uncalled-for personal remarks. A lot of people might say that Cherie looks pretty foxy, especially when you consider the strain of being married to Blair.
And who cares about the fees she clocks up on her American lecture tours? The sooner she and her husband are engaged full-time in addressing church halls in Minnesota, the happier we will all be.
Yes, I have been a long-standing secret Cherie fan, and so you can imagine my shock when I met her for the first time last Friday morning.
There she was, coming up the platform towards me at Runcorn, all in brown, with fluttering eyelashes. There I was, going the other way. There was nothing for it. Our eyes met; Special Branch melted away; and for a few brief minutes, as we walked up the stairs and over the bridge to her cavalcade, we had a perfectly pleasant conversation until – for reasons I still cannot fathom – she turned to me and puffed out her cheeks in a parody of obesity and said: “Aren’t you getting a bit fat? Isn’t it time you got back on your bike?”
Well, I blushed, of course. You’d blush, if you were told to take a bit more exercise by the Prime Minister’s wife. And I mention this not just to share my shame, but also to assure Cherie that, as soon as I got back to Euston, I did my best to follow her advice.
I went back to the rack, where I had locked my bike. I was all set, after this humiliation, to begin a Tour de Londres… And what did I find? I found my bike, all right, or rather the skeleton of my bike.
It was like the climax of The Old Man and the Sea, when the Old Man finally hauls the fish out of the Sea, and finds that it has been eaten from beneath by the little fish. It wasn’t a bike any more. It was a half-bike.
Someone had actually gone to the trouble of leaving the carcass, but stealing the rear wheel, without which, unless you are extremely skilful, a bicycle is useless and indeed not a bicycle in the technical sense of the word.
And, as I stood there in silent dejection, I thought that the whole experience was so utterly, utterly typical of this Labour Government. First there is the bossiness and the nannying. The Prime Minister’s very wife tells you to get on your bike, and then, when you try pathetically to comply with her demands, you find that her husband is presiding over such rampant crime that your steed has been fatally maimed.
It cost £70 to fix the damage, and the Labour Government wonders why nobody trusts it on crime. We have violent crime on the up; we have a public so scared of aggressive burglary that the Government resorts to sending them a leaflet telling them exactly when and how they may hit an intruder with a baseball bat; we have our streets full of cowled and feral youths, who curse and spit and swagger with impunity, and whose larceny is so uncontrollable that they steal not only our bicycles, but parts of our bicycles.
What is Blair doing about it, other than sending Cherie around to tell us to ride our mutilated machines? He is doing nothing about the root causes of crime, the indiscipline in schools, the miserable reversal in the relations between pupils and teachers, by which teachers are prevented from exercising the slightest authority over the budding bike-thieves in their charge, let alone chastising them.
The Government should be giving more powers back to teachers, and head teachers; and what is Labour doing instead? It is using the general sense of fear and insecurity to seize quite astonishing powers for central government, to the point where we are in serious danger of becoming a police state.
Last week, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, announced some stupefying proposals for detention without trial, by which you or I could be locked up indefinitely, in our own homes, on his say-so. What price Wilkes? What price liberty?
A freedom won for the people in the 18th century is to be swept away; though yesterday the Prime Minister had the grace to squirm when Michael Howard confronted him. He has agreed to discuss the vastly more sensible Tory policy, whose guiding principle is that, if the state has enough evidence to incarcerate a man, it should have enough evidence to put him on trial.
There is no reason why wire-tapping evidence could not be screened, as the Opposition proposes, by an investigating judge, to make sure that the defence has everything it needs. If we have the evidence, and we can convict these characters, then by all means let us bang them away; and if we can’t supply the evidence, then let us put them under surveillance, because no one could object, in current circumstances, to the watching of suspects.
And since we Tories are making the running so much at the moment, let me offer my own modest solution to the bike problem, by which we could begin to restore a sense of decency and civility and respect to our streets. As part of a general zero-tolerance approach, I propose that we flood the streets with baited bicycles, equipped either with indelible dye or cameras or homing devices. Then we’d have all the evidence we need, and we could reward these bike thieves with exemplary punishment of sharia-style severity.
We Tories are in favour of freedom. That means habeas corpus, and caveat latro. Thieves beware.