21 September 2006

Will you pay our fines?

Boris Johnson MPI suppose we should be grateful that The Daily Telegraph has done the booster seat law and again identified the European Union as the culprit – having had Tom Utley write about it in March.

After our complaints about The Times and The Sunday Telegraph failing to mention the EU origin of the law, it would be wholly ungracious not to recognise that on this, at least, the daily paper has a relatively good record.

Continuing on with our debate on how best to present the eurosceptic case, however, we could complain – as we did about Heffer yesterday – that giving the job to Boris Johnson actually does more harm than good.

Here we have to be a little careful as opinion is sharply divided over the merits of "Boris". Some adore him and think he is the acceptable face of the Conservative Party, while others – like both of us on this blog – think he is a cretinous buffoon who should not be allowed out on his own.

Love him or hate him, though, he has certainly brought the issue to the attention of a large constituency of people who might not have otherwise have been aware of it. But one has to wonder to what effect.

We get a flowery and highly personalised diatribe about how, "the state should now be trying to prolong our national car seat agony", and then a confession: "…I find myself shocked by the depth of my own anger", he says, continuing:

If people decide that they are not going to comply with this crack-brained law, and they are not going to buy a banquette booster-seat for an 11-year-old, then they will have my complete sympathy. If the overworked police of this country decide they have better things to do than flag motorists down and measure their children to see whether or not they are more than 4ft 5in, then they will have my full support.
If you like that sort of rhetoric, fair enough, and there is plenty more of it. For instance, Boris tells us:

I would resent this law badly enough as an infringement of my liberty to decide how to convey my own children in my own car. But the main reason why I am so angry is that this stupid and impertinent law was not even generated by the British Government. It wasn't some gentleman in Whitehall who decided he knew best about booster seats. It wasn't even the brainchild of the UK health and safety industry. It is, of course, an EU directive, which means that elected British politicians have been given neither the means nor the opportunity to contest it – or even to debate it.
As to there being no debate, that is not quite true – and that is one of Boris Johnson's great weaknesses – he is one of those "above the line" figures, so he doesn't need to do his homework. True the directive, as such, was not debated, but the regulations that implemented the directive were – and that is the way things are done. This was held by the Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation on Wednesday 5 July 2006 at which, if the MPs had so decided, they could have rejected the regulations. They didn't, of course – but then they never do.

And, of course, Mr Johnson is an MP. He has a right to attend any committee and can speak. He didn't attend this one – he never does. He could have lobbied the committee, raised a campaign and called on the media to support him, in order to force a vote against the regulations. But he didn't this time – and he never does.

Then and since, he has been silent – up until now of course, when – for a not insubstantial fee on top of his MP's salary, he is able to tell us through the pages of the Telegraph: "I find myself shocked by the depth of my own anger…". And in that same article, he then has the nerve to tell us that, "we need proper standing committees with the power to mandate ministers, and to refuse to accept directives even if they are decided at a majority vote."

We've got them, Boris, we've got them.

But, on the back of this totally spurious note, Boris concludes that:

Otherwise we will find that the law of this country – the law affecting the personal lives of millions, and their children – is not made in this country; and that is a perfect and justifiable reason for massive civil disobedience.
You will now perhaps see why we think of Mr Johnson as a cretinous buffoon. As an MP, he is highly paid - with an annual salary of £59,095 on top of the £120,000 expenses that he claimed for the last financial year, plus a generous pension. Yet, having failed to do anything about a law to which he fundamentally objects - he now advocates (for an additional fee) civil disobedience against that very law.

And will you pay our fines, Mr Johnson?