Jack Straw’s plan, announced this week, to make those undertaking community service wear orange bibs while doing it – somehow even the word ‘bib’ is demeaning – with the words COMMUNITY PAYBACK (catchy!) on them, stitched in green and purple, the words on the front to be, oh the bureaucracy, “not less than 9 centimetres high” on the front, and “not less than 30 cm high” on the back, is just plain banal. Still, he is the Minister of Justice. What he says, goes. Thank goodness he is not the Minister for Interior Decoration, or we would live in a pulsing, clashing, colour nightmare.
The idea is that Justice is seen to be done. While it is true that these new bibs will certainly prevent the miscreants being run over, whether by day or by night, it will probably cause car accidents even more numerous than those caused by mobile phone users. ‘Oh look! A Community Payee!’ Smash! It is almost as daft as former leader Tony Blair’s idea that on-the-spot fines could be collected by frog-marching delinquents to a cash-machine, or John Major’s famous cone-line, by which an excess of roadside cones, which had really bugged him, were to be reported to a number printed by the roadside, presumably to be memorised by the driver.
Obviously, these jackets aren’t going to go far enough. Criminals who have evaded jail should be made to stand in the windows of stores which have gone under because of the recession, or forced to stand next to the ‘living sculptures’ and unicyclists who hog the precincts. They should be made to dress up as comedy convicts in suits with arrows on them. They should be obliged to change the guard at Buckingham Palace, or to go round housing estates on a Bib-A-Job scheme, now that the scouts have stopped doing it. They should – come on, this is the thinking – be put in the stocks.
Imagine it. King Lear arrives at Gloucester’s castle, hoping to find an amenable daughter, and there is his servant, the Earl of Kent in disguise, with his head shaved (another idea for you, Jack) and wearing an orange bib with green and purple lettering on it. ‘Who put my man i’ this bib?’ Enter Cornwall: ‘I set him there, sir: but his own disorders/ Deserved much less advancement.’ Or Clint Eastwood, coming across an undeserving felon: ‘I know what you’re thinking. Which colour-scheme is he going to suggest? Cerise and lemon, with a hint of avocado? Do you feel unlucky, punk? Well, do you? Go ahead, wear this bib.’
Also: ‘Community Payback’ doesn’t do it for me. What about ‘I Fought The Law, And The Law Won’ or just ‘I Did It’ or even ‘I Committed A Crime And All I Got Was This Lousy Bib’ – the scheme is definitely in its infancy. What about getting them to carry a rucksack of stones? What ever happened to all that oakum? No-one’s picked it for at least a century. There must be stacks of it somewhere, just waiting for idle hands.
I know we are facing a period of moral decline. I know there are schools where even the teachers cannot spell for tofu. I know that there are social workers who have dedicated themselves to bureaucratic ineptitude. I know that there are MPs and civil servants who are chucking data sticks left right and centre. And I know that people are dying of cholera in Zimbabwe. And that there are droughts, famines, floods, and wars, wars, wars.
And what’s the big news? Customised bibs. There is only one answer. We should all wear them. Streets full of us, with orange bibs, all with conflicting messages, and all saying, directly to Jack Straw, ‘Community PAYBACK, Jack!’