Sunday, October 30, 2005


The UK Government is hell bent on encouraging "respect" within society. It seems to me that there are currently two main interpretations of the word and they are at loggerheads with each other.

The traditional meaning of "respect" is a form of deference - in respect for others in society I will not engage in crime - that has the purpose of reminding each and every one of us that, for society to work, we must defer to the wishes of others when it makes sense to do so.

A more modern meaning of "respect" might find its roots in the song by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Here "respect" is a form of assertiveness - I am looking for your respect - that has the purpose of raising the status of the individual higher up the social ranking.

Is it possible that the Birmingham Riots of last weekend came about because of the misunderstanding of the word "respect" by the powers of authority (Birmingham City Council, the Police, the Government) on the one hand and the gangs rioting in the streets on the other hand?

To confuse the picture even more, the Government has set up a "Respect Unit" that reports directly to the Prime Minister. This committee has as its role the challenge of understanding and then combatting the anti-social elements of society that are making honest citizens' lives more and more miserable. But I wonder which of the above two definitions the Government is trying to implement.

The latest leaked statements from this "Respect Unit" suggest they are proposing a total ban on alcohol drinking on public transport. Having suffered the tribulation of the "last train home" ride on a few occasions I do understand where a total ban might be useful but it seems to me that this would be more than draconian.

For example, I remember traveling up to London a few months ago by train. In the same car were four ladies, smartly dressed, no doubt ready for a weekend in London, enjoying a glass of wine or two as they whiled away the miles and looked forward to what ever lay ahead. They were doing nothing wrong. In fact they brightened up my day, seeing four people so obviously enjoying themselves. But they will not be able to share that glass of wine if the "Respect Unit" has its way.

So, you might think that this is a small price to pay to gain security from lager louts? I think it's a very high price. I have never seen any form of the Law on a late night train (I don't think there is such a thing as Railway Police any more). Can we honestly expect that the Law will suddenly appear after the Government introduces a total ban on alcohol? I seriously doubt it. Perhaps we simply need the Law to be out there when they could do something about the problem, and they (the Law) could start to earn our deferential respect in the process.