Clarkson on: privatisation
There's been a debate for some time now about whether films mirror real life or whether it's the other way round. For the vast majority of the cinema-going audience, films are all about escapism. They're like drugs - fine when you're in there, but sooner or later the honeymoon ends and you have to go back to the real world.
Now, strong-willed individuals can handle that. They can separate fact from fantasy. Michael Howard, however, obviously cannot. This wouldn't be so bad if he was just a regular guy, but unfortunately he is the Home Secretary.
Now, at some point he has been to see Robocop - a film set some time in the future, when the private sector runs everything and employs some morally questionable tactics to police cities. After I'd been to see it, I came out of the cinema marvelling at the director's vision, and all the way home talked excitedly about that bit when Robocop shot a rapist in the testicles.
Unfortunately, Mr Howard took a different view. While the rest of the audience was urging Robocop on in his war with the greed-is-good merchants of 1999, Michael was hatching a plan. Over the years, his government has privatised pretty much everything it can lay its hands on, so why not go further? Here was a film about a privatised police force - maybe it would work here. So last month, Mr Howard declared that he wanted to see the police service freed from non-essential tasks.
Naturally, the Police Federation and every motoring organisation from the Tufty Club up is furious because they know what's coming. Everyone knows what will motivate the traffic police if they are privatised. Shareholders. People in suits. The faceless minority that was actually happy to see Rover become German.
"Everyone knows what will motivate the traffic police if they are privatised. Shareholders. People in suits"
At the moment, on a clear sunny day, Britain's traffic police can just sit on their pig perches or back at base, playing cards. But when you introduce shareholders into the equation, they're going to have to make a profit.
Someone will have to pay for their wages, so the money will have to be raised from people caught doing 71 mph up the M4. We've seen how the privatised parking enforcement agencies operate, so can you imagine what a privatised traffic police force will be like?
Behind every tree, there'll be a man with a moustache and a hair dryer. And you can forget all about a caution, because someone will have to pay for the fuel he used to chase you and the time you've spent chatting. The only good thing is that to keep costs down, the suits will buy their officers cheap, slow cars. Tool around at 120 and there's no way that Roboplod in his Proton will get close. Well, not until you get to the next toll booth, anyway.
Yes, speeding is a minor misdemeanour and Howard is right to call the enforcement of it a ‘non-essential task', but what about drinking and driving? Is that a minor offence which the police shouldn't bother with? And if it is, why do they spend so much money every Christmas on TV commercials telling us that it isn't? And do they really think a profit-led police force will tell people to stop doing something that feeds its coffers? No, they'll want us to speed and jump lights when we're pissed, or they won't keep their bloody shareholders happy.
Now, when BT, British Gas and all the rest were floated, I was standing in line waiting for a slice of the action, but when we're offered a chance to buy some of the police, I'll be at home watching TV. And I urge you to do the same.
That will keep the share price way down. And then, for a month or so, let's all stick absolutely to the letter of the law. Let's not put a single foot wrong. We'll go straight and starve them to death.
Think about that, and smile.