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George Orwell would have been intrigued, but perhaps unsurprised, by the evident determination of the Government to criminalise half the population. Or more, if it can. Big Brother, after all, understood the importance of cowing the populace. Over 3,000 new offences - and still counting - have been created since 1997.

Among them are such curiosities as causing a nuclear explosion (was it really legal hitherto?), mislabelling honey, obstructing an inspection by the Adult Learning Directorate and much more besides. Officialdom now revels in 266 powers of entry. Even where offences are trivial, they may still leave an individual with a criminal record. This prospect has been increased by the police being unable or unwilling to tackle serious crime and thus resorting to cautions for both major and minor offences.

Someone confident of acquittal in a court, or of a silly charge being dropped, can be tempted to accept a caution, unaware of the seriousness of having a criminal record. The police are happy with the process because it helps them hit targets for "crimes solved". The borderline between the trivial and the serious has also been eradicated by ending the distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences.

"You can be arrested for just about anything today," a lawyer assures me. The motorist, as a favoured target, now faces ever more complex and sterner action from the Crown Prosecuting Service (to the apparent concern of the judges). Offences now include the potential distractions of smoking while driving, changing a CD or even arguing with passengers - families beware! A supreme example of official imbecility was the recent charge of "inconsiderate driving" for a man who inadvertently splashed workmen by driving through a puddle. The potential fine for this is, incredibly, £5,000. Yet a fine for the serious offence of common assault is limited to £2,000.

Criminalising Britain: Motorists are a favoured target. More sinister is the latest addition to existing laws about "hate crime", the voicing of dislike or disdain of an individual or group on grounds of race or religion - now to include sexuality. As the comedian Rowan Atkinson observed, this will have a "chilling" effect even on humour. Beware of starting a joke: "There was an Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman. . ."

Orwell would have been fascinated by this because the distinction between hate crime and thought crime - one of Big Brother's most valued weapons - becomes increasingly hard to distinguish. The courts (and the CPS) are allowed, even required, to consider an offender's frame of mind. This legislation provides various people and groups - including the malicious or eccentric - with the power to intimidate. They can go to the police and complain that a remark about a race, a group, a faith, even a region, should be prosecuted as a hate crime. The common sense answer to the complainants might well be to tell them to go away and grow up. But that is not how it happens.

If someone makes this particular complaint to the police, they will almost invariably investigate. In Soviet Russia the great fear was of the knock on the door in the small hours. Our equivalent today is a daytime ring at the front door where the citizen will find two policeman (always in pairs) announcing that a complaint has been made and would he care to come to the station and explain. At the station they may well decide that no offence has been committed. But for most people such an experience will be traumatic. And the alleged "offence" will be logged on the police computer.
One effect of the hate laws is that many have come to believe that they are not allowed to voice a variety of innermost thoughts which are in fact perfectly legal.

This can even extend to journalists, sadly. Another menace is the misuse of new legislation. The powers of arrest under the Terrorism Act have been a gift to the officious policeman. By March last year there had been 1,228 such incidents. They included a woman arrested for walking on a path reserved for cyclists. Memorably, an 82-year-old delegate at the 2005 Labour conference was arrested for his determination to heckle Jack Straw. Two women were arrested for reading out at the Cenotaph the names of soldiers killed in Iraq. It may be that the Government has no worked- out strategy to criminalise the population. But the urge to forbid comes naturally.

Another factor is the desire of ministers to show that they are energetic - and thus suited to promotion. The easiest way for him or often her (for the female of the species is more deadly than the male) is to win a place at the despatch box for new legislation, with of course the politician's inherent satisfaction of being in the limelight. And laws, by their very nature, usually demand penalties. Over the whole process there hangs the belief, active or even rampant on the Left, that how people should behave is how they must be made to behave. Humourists have long satirised the phrase "we are all guilty". But it is no longer a joke.


March 17, 2012 @02:23 pm

There was even a recent case in the UK where a person was fined £50 for littering for accidentally dropping a £10 note on the street and a policeman happened to be there to witness it!!!! What is going on, I ask?


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