Men, I think it’s always been men so far, who attend remembrance parades wearing medals to which they are not entitled and which they have bought on ebay are, we all agree, doing something which is reprehensible. Of course, many of them almost certainly suffer from mental ill health. Nevertheless, it is probably true that some of them are mentally sound and are just behaving badly for the sake of it.
At present, it is not an offence to wear a medal to which you are not entitled. It is, of course, an offence to pretend you have medals in order to persuade people to give you money. That is fraud. But just wearing someone else’s medals for fun, or even because you hope others will think you are entitled to them, is not a criminal offence. Almost all MPs think it should be.
Gareth Johnson, a Conservative backbench MP, has produced a private member’s bill which, if enacted, will allow judges to imprison anyone who wears medals to which he is not entitled unless he is doing so in a film or play (fancy dress parties are not exempted in the same way). Mr Johnson is probably, in all other respects, a thoroughly decent chap. But, plainly, he suffers from the affliction which affects pretty well all modern MPs: he thinks he is there to dream up new ways of imprisoning his fellow countrymen.
When I say that Mr Johnson is typical of the modern MP, I do so on safe grounds. The Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Defence Select Committee all agree with him. I would be astounded if the Liberal Democrats were not also in favour of imprisoning false medal wearers (they have always been at the forefront in campaigns to create unnecessary new criminal offences). And, let us be fair, it is not just politicians who have this sadistic streak. The tabloid newspapers also long for inadequate people who wear medals they haven’t earned to be banged up in gaol.
When I first read about Mr Johnson’s bill my immediate thought was that it was wholly unnecessary, that there was no need for the state to spend thousands of pounds imprisoning people for pinning medals to which they weren’t entitled to their chests, that popular disapproval of such dastardly behaviour was all that was required. But then, I admit it, I got cold feet. I realised that no one else seemed to agree with me. What Sir John Major calls the “tyranny of the majority” had won the day. I had better, I thought, keep silent if I wanted to avoid being abused by the rest of the world for my appalling liberal opinions.
But then I heard two former officers being interviewed on the Today programme on the BBC. One, a nice sounding woman Major, was there to support Mr Johnson. The other, an obviously very intelligent Colonel who had been awarded the MC, was bravely opposing Mr Johnson’s proposals. He spoke movingly about one of his soldiers who had been awarded a posthumous MC for astounding bravery. He said that the idea that someone wearing an MC to which he was not entitled could possibly diminish our admiration for his courageous soldier was obvious nonsense. Mr Johnson, he said, had got a valued place in the ballot for private members’ bills and had chosen, instead of tackling a serious problem, to draft a bill designed to imprison people for lying. Much to the annoyance of the BBC, I imagine, the nice Major then admitted she actually agreed with the Colonel.
The Colonel is not the only man who has been brave enough to speak out against Mr Johnson’s desire to find more inmates for our already overpopulated prisons. My researches reveal that several other recipients of bravery awards are just as opposed to Johnson’s bill.
Still, all those valiant MPs have a different opinion. We’d better build some more prisons.