The last time puritanism flared up in England, a king was decapitated. I do hope no such fate awaits Her Majesty, for puritanism is on the rise again.
This time, however, it springs not from a dour misreading of Christianity, but from replacing it with a kind of pagan moralising underpinned by ersatz virtue.
It’s in that spirit that Chris Tarrant got shopped.
The TV presenter had four drinks at a village pub just over a mile from his Berkshire house. He then drove home and relaxed. He shouldn’t have.
For one of his fellow drinkers had shopped him to the cops, which is par for today’s course. The same people who, as children, knew not to grass up a classmate, now sanctimoniously denounce anyone who contravenes the new pseudo-morality, be that by having a tipple or patting a girl’s behind.
The cops banged on Tarrant’s door 13 minutes after he got home and found him to have 50 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. Since the legal limit is 35 microgrammes, Tarrant was done – for having roughly one drink too many to satisfy the exacting legal requirements.
When he was tried at Reading Magistrates Court, both his prosecutor and judge were Muslims, or at least had Muslim names, Hasrat Ali and Shomon Khan respectively.
I’m not suggesting any bias on their part, but, had Mr Tarrant been tried by a jury, gentlemen with those names wouldn’t have been on it. Having Muslims try a drink-driving case is like having RSPCA members pronounce on cruelty towards animals.
It’s hardly surprising that His Honour ruled that the “relatively low reading” couldn’t possibly “reduce the seriousness of the offence”. He then banned Mr Tarrant for a year and fined him £6,000.
The law was thus served – and justice abused.
Most people would disagree with me, but I have a problem with prosecuting drink-driving in general, provided the imbiber drives normally. If he veers all over the place or, God forbid, runs someone over, then by all means throw the book at him. But if his driving isn’t affected, arresting him for having three glasses of wine instead of the allowable two smacks of preventive arrest.
I’ve heard arguments that a chap who has drunk half a bottle of wine is statistically more likely to have an accident. That may be.
But since when do we arrest people on statistical probability? For example, statistics show that a black man is more likely than a white one to commit a crime. Does this mean we should arrest all black men just in case?
However, even assuming that a law against drink-driving has some merit, surely it must be applied sensibly. For example, there’s less excuse for DUI in London, where one can just get into a taxi, than in the country, where no other transportation is available.
The issue is dear to my heart because I spend almost half my time in rural France, where we often go to friends’ houses for dinner. The party usually lasts some four hours, over which time I’d typically have a couple of glasses of bubbly before dinner and perhaps a bottle of wine with it.
After that I drive home, on the roads that are empty even in daytime, never mind after midnight. Since I metabolise alcohol efficiently, I’m probably within the UK limit, but conceivably outside the French one, which is a third lower. So what should we do, walk 15 miles home? Or not drink at a French dinner party? (The former is more plausible.)
Fair enough, if I had a bottle of whisky rather than wine, I shouldn’t be driving, as, to my eternal shame, I used to do in my youth. (I still warmly remember that Texas cop who stopped me, demanded that I get out of the car, realised that I couldn’t and still let me off, saying to my wife: “Lady, either you drive or I take him to jail.”)
I wouldn’t do that now, having acquired some common sense and civic responsibility. But any experienced driver is capable of driving home safely after a few glasses of wine – especially on empty country roads.
The argument that one’s reflexes are dulled by alcohol doesn’t quite wash either. A friend of mine has a 93-year-old father who can still legally drive from Paris to our neck of Burgundian woods. I bet my house against your pint that I have sharper reflexes after a bottle of wine than he has stone sober.
So, if the speed of reflexes is an issue, which of us should be arrested? And if the authorities are so concerned about reaction time, why not measure that instead of the blood alcohol content?
Getting back to Mr Tarrant’s case, preventing an accident was clearly not on the policemen’s mind. After all, he was already home safely. So why go after him with so much determination?
Then there’s the size of the fine. I Googled drink-driving penalties on the government website, and it mentions a fine of up to £2,500. How come Mr Tarrant was fined £6,000?
Oh well, you see, he’s a wealthy man, and our judges are soldiers in the frontline of class war. A smaller fine, they probably think, wouldn’t hurt enough to constitute a punishment or deterrent.
Fine, I accept that logic, but only if we extend it to other types of punishment as well. For example, a thug who has been in and out of pokey since he was 12 wouldn’t suffer imprisonment as much as a tweedy middle-class chap. So, should they both commit the same crime, say running someone over when drunk, shall we give a much stiffer sentence to the thug?
If drink-driving is indeed a genuine problem, rather than merely another opportunity for the bossy state to put its foot down, then there’s a better way of solving it. Paradoxically, it should be decriminalised.
However, drinking should be treated as an aggravating circumstance in any other infraction, from bad driving to causing a fatal accident. The latter should be treated as manslaughter calling for a life sentence with no tariff. And even simply hurting another driver should draw a custodial sentence.
This would prevent drink-caused accidents more effectively than the possibility of a ban and a fine. But that’s not what the state is after, is it? (See Orwell’s 1984 for details.)