The Godmother speaks out 

6 March 2005

BBC News report on Jowell’s opinions on burglar payment

The Rt Hon Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has become quite famous for knowing little about any of the three things in her title.

As someone who doesn’t even own a television, she knows little about that, too – but that hasn’t stopped her making plenty of ill-informed decisions about the medium and especially the BBC.

Now you can tell that she’s just itching to say something about the BBC’s decision to pay a reported £4,500 to Brendan Fearon, the burglar shot in a trap laid by reclusive Norfolk farmer Tony Martin.

Fearon, who doesn’t come over as anything more than a common criminal, is the only witness (besides the odd Mr Martin) to the night of the burglary. That means he does have a story to tell of interest. More than that, he has a legal right to tell it. Even more, the BBC has a legal right to pay him to tell it.

The charming Ms Jowell, however, would prefer the BBC not to have stirred up this hornets nest in the first place. Especially in election year. But she can’t say that.

There are several definite things she can say – “don’t do it”, “I’m changing the law”, “I’m forbidding this” etc – but she won’t because she knows she’ll just be stirring things further.

So she resorts to cracking her knuckles and making statements that might be threatening, but might not – “I am perfectly sure that they [the BBC governors] are aware of the importance of maintaining public confidence and public trust in the proper way in which the licence fee is spent.”

You can see her kissing her fist now and arranging a decapitation at the local stables.

But the BBC has already been reprieved (if severely weakened) by her announcement last week that it will survive her reign and therefore is unlikely (one hopes) to give in to such crude – but veiled – threats.

As even the illiberal Ms Jowell should realise, a ban on payments to time-served criminals would have denied us such diverse works as “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (Oscar Wilde, gross indecency), “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (John Bunyan, preaching without a licence), “Letters on the English” (Voltaire, libel), “Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism, and Syndicalism” (Bertrand Russell, conscientious objection) and “Loot” (Joe Orton, damaging library books).

On the plus side, it would have spared the English-speaking world from “A Prison Diary” (Jeffrey Archer, perjury).

In the modern world, a “one-strike-and-you’re-out” policy would have denied us the pleasure or otherwise of the talents of Leslie Grantham (manslaughter), Alec Guiness (gross indecency), John Geilgud (gross indecency), Stacy Keach (possession of a controlled substance) and many, many more – assuming you didn’t just draw a line at writing and went on to all forms of fame (all of the above have appeared in things about prison or crime since their convictions).

The human rights implications of this are just as scary. You’re soon in a world where what you can talk about is controlled by the threat of fines or imprisonment based on what your previous experiences were, and despite having been convicted and punished by our justice system.

The result is that there can be no rehabilitation and no prospect of learning and developing for former criminals. Anyone committing any crime would spend the rest of their life being treated as a criminal, with society taking steps to further punish someone for years after they had served the punishment they had been legally given, been rehabilitated and gone on to lead positive, useful lives.

Ms Jowell is now in a terrible place: she’s spent the weapon she had to use against the BBC; she can’t come out and order the BBC to not do something having just claimed to guarentee its independence a few days before; she can’t take the logical, liberal and human rights-based approach because that would be sorely out of character for her government; and she can’t just ignore it, because she’s already opened her mouth to pontificate.

So she’ll just have to stand at the side of the room, cracking those knuckles.

If the BBC holds its nerve, the sight of Ms Jowell working herself up into an impotent fury over the next few days will be fun for everyone.

It’ll also give us the chance to see Vlad the Howard make a fool of himself on the subject yet again. Then it’ll be Ms Jowell’s turn to hold her nerve – if she wants to make political capital from this, she’d better be stood on the correct side of the fence when Mr Howard gets around to clumsily wading in to the melee.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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