A letter from an English couple, who are long-time friends of mine, arrived, thanking me for lending them my London flat. (They live in America.) ‘We also managed to fit in a wedding near Oxford and a long private chat with the Queen at Windsor...who, in contrast to the incumbent at the White House, drove herself (in a nice ordinary Jaguar) to church and drinks with us without a sign of security. Just a lady sitting next to her in a dark-blue suit. It is possible the slight bulge in her skirt covered a weapon, but there wasn’t a sign of the boys in blue anywhere. Amazing — quite like the old days.’
Just as I finished the letter, I read how Two Jags John Prescott, the world’s stupidest-looking Cabinet minister, had been intimidated last year by a gang of youths in hooded tops who tried to ambush him in a motorway service station. Poor Prescott. Poor gang of youths. Imagine pulling up at a service station in order to mug a few old ladies and running into Two Jags. Prescott expressed his fears to the press in a rather short statement, which took him about an hour to pronounce. According to Prescott, he was about to become the victim of the happy slapping craze, where thugs film their attacks on innocent people. Although I’m always on the side of the victim, I must confess the idea of watching Two Jags being slapped around by a bunch of hoods seemed as attractive as throwing a custard pie at Polly Toynbee.
But — isn’t there always a but when it comes to bad things happening to ‘bad’ people? — the thugs were scared off by Prescott’s Special Branch minders. They would, wouldn’t they? Muggers, thugs, yobs and criminals in general are terrific physical cowards. When I was studying the species in Pentonville more than 20 years ago, there was not a single brave man to be found. They talked tough and swaggered a lot, but when push came to shove, they acted like the Saudi ruling gang.
So here’s an original idea for cutting down crime, mostly inspired by my friends’ letter about the Queen. If Brown, Blair and Prescott, in order of importance, were denied any security, they just might begin to understand why people are as disillusioned about politicians as they are. Here’s Tony Blair, eight years in power, and the first thing he says after being re-elected by the Scottish electorate is that he will tackle crime. What bullshit. I know few people in London who have not suffered from violent crime, except for politicians, and I know very few of those, thank God. It’s easy to get around when protected by minders, something only the rich and those who rule us can afford. If Prescott had been mugged, it might have sent a message to the government, but your tax money, dear readers, made sure he got home safe and sound. So, if Blair was serious about crime in the streets, let him be the first to renounce his minders in the same spirit in which King George VI partly filled his bathtub during the war. What’s good for the suckers who pay his salary and perks should be good enough for his imperial majesty, King Tony.
But I’m just whistling Dixie, as they used to say in ole Virginia. No one who ever had a good racket going ever gave it up, and to expect these conmen and conwomen to take chances like the rest of us is like expecting this Wolfe character to ask for higher sentences for the bad guys. It used to be that only dictators used excessive security — Hitler (democratically elected), Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Peron, Papadopoulos (it kills me to include him, but include him I must) and every African potentate. I remember King Paul of Greece driving to the public swimming-pool in Athens, next to the tennis club, to do his laps every morning in the company of an airforce general, Babis Potamianos, a great friend of my family and still with us at 90-plus, without a single cop in sight. (And there was a war going on up north.) Ditto for the present King Constantine, who drove himself everywhere in his open green Mercedes, stopping and talking to people when he felt like it. In fact, a conservative newspaper once criticised him for it, but he continued the practice until he left Greece after his failed anti-colonel putsch.
Harry Truman used to walk up and down 5th Avenue while staying at the Hotel Carlyle during the Sixties without security, as did Richard Nixon after his fall. (Nixon nixed security provided by the state, but paid for a couple of aides who doubled as minders.) This is the way it should be. Blair has given in to IRA terror, so he’s safe. Give it up, you bums, and see how the rest of us peasants live. I don’t even use security when on my boat, and we all know how dangerous it is to own a yacht nowadays.