Mr Speaker, these are frightening times. Everywhere I go, I see ordinary people going about their lives gripped by a profound sense of insecurity, even foreboding. As Members of this House, it is our duty, indeed our honour to do something about that. I’d go so far as to say that the desire to improve people’s lives is why we went into politics in the first place. I know that’s why I did.
All my life, both before and since I came to Parliament, I have been guided by my belief that there are no trivial problems. No problem is trivial for those who suffer it. All people want and deserve solutions to the problems that plague their lives, no matter how small those problems may seem to those of us who can claim tens of thousands of pounds in expenses every month.
And just as there is no such thing as a trivial problem, I believe there is no such thing as a drastic solution. Solutions either solve the problem, or they are no solutions at all. All anyone wants, and all anyone can ask for, is a solution that does what it says on the tin.
That is why I, as a member of the opposition, am proud to stand in solidarity with our Government in their bold and innovative proposals to deal with the problem of young criminals nicking things out of shops. Trivial, you say? Then you must not be a shopkeeper.
I have disagreed with the Government on many things, and I am sure I will disagree with them on many more in the future, but when someone gets something right, it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge that. The Government recognise that the only way to deal with this problem is to strike at the root. The Government seek to cure the disease rather than just treating the symptoms by asking the obvious questions: Where do these criminals congregate? Where do they plan their attacks on our nation’s economy? Where do they find a safe haven when the deed is done?
I have in my hands the Government’s White Paper, which summarises the findings of their extraordinarily exhaustive review of the available evidence. I hope that everyone in this House, including those who disagree with the Government’s plan, has at least taken the time to read it, because it deserves to be read.
After months of investigation, the Government’s researchers came to the conclusion that these criminals hide and conspire in the very symbol of innocence itself: Our nation’s playgrounds. It is from these cradles of our children’s dreams that they launch their daily attacks on our economy and on the brave men and women on duty every day at our nation’s off-licences. Greater cynicism than this is hard to imagine.
I have yet to hear any opponent of the Government’s proposal deny any of what I have just said, and so I believe I am entirely justified in taking it as common ground. We are all in agreement that there is a problem. We are in agreement about what it is. We are all in agreement that it is serious and that something must be done. Am I mistaken?
I would like it noted in Hansard that not even the left wing of our party disagrees with the Government’s and my analysis of the issue.
Ah. I’ve just been informed that he’s popped out to the lav. Well, we can’t deny him that, can we?
So all of us – supporters and opponents of the Government’s plan alike – agree about the nature of the problem, with one possible exception. One cannot help but notice, however, the gulf between the well-reasoned, thoroughly researched proposals offered by the Government and the simplistic response offered by the opponents of the plan.
Do they offer any alternatives? No, at least they offer no alternatives that are worthy of the name. All they say is that it’s ‚wrong‘ to put landmines in children’s playgrounds. They question whether it’s ‚moral‘. They claim it goes against their ‚principles‘.
‚Principled objections‘ are what separates the pontificating moralist from the statesman. We should always be suspicious of these appeals to principle, because they eliminate options. Moralists may have no problem eliminating potential solutions from consideration based on their ‚principles‘, but statesmen have no such luxury.
Imagine where we would be if statesmen were guided by a politics of principles rather than one of pragmatism and possibility. It hardly bears thinking about, for it is a world where the Spanish royal family might even today be denied their rightful place on the throne, a world where the arts would forever be impoverished because Picasso would never have been inspired to paint his masterpiece Guernica, Shostakovich might never have composed his Leningrad symphony, and Churchill might never have had the good fortune to be Prime Minister in what might never have had the chance to be Britain’s finest hour.
Where moralists can see nothing but maimed bodies and ruined lives, statesmen see the enrichment of history.
And whilst there are no trivial problems, there are always trivial obstacles, and statesmen do not allow trivial obstacles to deter them from great solutions. Great solutions like the Government’s Safe Playgrounds Initiative.
I do not wish to seem heartless here. The opponents of the Safe Playgrounds Initiative do not hold a monopoly on humanity. I, too, feel strongly that innocent lives must be protected, and I would not support the Initiative if the Government had not gone to such great lengths to craft safeguards in order to do just that.
Because I trust that everyone here has read the proposal, I note merely for the record the scientifically tested fail-safe mechanism that is built in to the proposal. According to the proposal’s safeguards, the mines will be used according to a strict formula, and will be laid in playgrounds in direct proportion to their proximity to council estates and comprehensive schools. But it does not stop there. The proposal further provides that not a single mine will be laid in playgrounds belonging to estates in a council tax band higher than F.
This is how statesmen show humanity, not by closing doors, but by opening the window to opportunity.
The opponents of the Safe Playgrounds Initiative, or, to put the matter more bluntly, the proponents of inaction in the face of the plight of our great British shopkeepers, seek to terrify us with spectres of limbs and lives lost, and have even soared to heights of alliterative wizardry to deem the Safe Playgrounds Initiative the ‚charnel house of childhood‘. This pathetically pornographic, petty pusillanimity, Mr Speaker, is synonymous with siding with those who are sullying the sanctity of our stores. They have decided to take up the cause of our enemies. Shame on all of them.
It is time that we all came together and did our bit to make Britain once again safe for shopkeepers, and that, Mr Speaker, is why I urge this House to support the Government’s motion and implement the Safe Playgrounds Initiative.