Friday 13 August 2004
Life, they say, is a lottery. But life has taught me that some things, other than death and taxes, are dead certainties. It seems a safe bet, for instance, that as soon as newspapers stir up public outrage over something, the Home Secretary will promise a law to ban it. When it comes to new legislation, David Blunkett’s knee jerks so fast and often that his guide dog might need to wear a riot helmet.
Mr Blunkett’s latest example of made-to-order law and order is a pledge to stop prisoners who win the National Lottery benefiting from their winnings in jail, and make them pay compensation to the official victims’ fund. This comes after the public uproar over Iorworth Hoare, a convicted rapist serving a life sentence, who won £7 million while on release from an open prison.
The Home Secretary considers this so important that he has written an article in The Sun promising to ‘find a way to stop this happening again’. Given that it has never happened before, there seems no reason to imagine that it ever will. Yet Mr Blunkett’s article protests that ‘this is not a knee-jerk reaction’.
Hoare is obviously a horrible specimen deserving of public contempt, and I could not care less about his ‘human right’ to buy a Lotto ticket. I am worried, however, about this irrational outburst of national outrage.
Everybody seems to be up in arms about such a bad man enjoying such good fortune. ‘And he’s not the only undeserving winner,’ moans one newspaper. Indeed he is not. I am also an undeserving lottery winner. And if, like me, you have picked up the occasional tenner, then you are one, too. As Clint Eastwood tells Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, ‘Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.’ Life may or may not be a lottery, but Lotto definitely is. To win it, nobody has to prove his moral worth, simply that he has the price of the ticket.
Some complain that they are outraged by Hoare’s windfall because they play the lottery to give money to good causes. Come off it. When I buy a ticket it is no more an act of charity than when I bet on the dogs or football. It gives me (and my young daughters who pick the numbers) a quick frisson of excitement on a Saturday evening. But when we don’t win, what difference can it make to us who does?
Now Mr Blunkett says that ‘there’s no justice’ if Hoare can win the lottery while his victims suffer. Since when, Home Secretary, has criminal justice had anything to do with who wins a raffle? I always thought justice involved criminals paying their debt to society, not repaying their lottery winnings to the Home Office. That is why Hoare was sent to prison. No doubt there is an argument to be had about whether he should have been on release. But the widespread suggestion that his victims should start suing him for compensation is likely to make matters worse. What price do you put on a rape that happened 20 years ago, anyway? It is entirely understandable that the women he attacked in the Seventies and Eighties should feel aggrieved at this turn of events. But exactly how are they supposed to benefit from seeing their past ordeals dragged across the national media today?
A decade ago, as the editor of Living Marxism magazine, I wrote about the ridiculous way that the new National Lottery was being made a scapegoat for social problems from poverty and inequality to addiction and moral decay. Now, in equally absurd ways, some seem to imagine that Lotto can be used to raise moral standards. Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, even claims that ‘the lottery is a force for good as surely as Hoare is a force for evil’. Some of us might have imagined that the lottery was a bit of harmless fun. But the sanctimonious new miserabilists seem to consider that an oxymoron.
I was recently introduced at a party as ‘a libertarian Marxist columnist’, of whom there must be rather fewer than there are lottery millionaires. Looking down those double barrels, here are two more things that I believe are dead certainties today. Lotto can be neither a force for good nor evil in society, whether that overblown raffle is won by a convicted rapist or a conviction politician. And there cannot be a new law to ban everything that we don’t like in life. It is unlikely that Mr Blunkett can even make good on his ‘vow to grab back the beast’s cash’. Any law will affect only future cases that are unlikely ever to occur. Perhaps the Home Office would do better to propose on-the-spot fines for politicians found guilty of perpetrating law-and-order stunts.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
reprinted from: http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/2309/