People going to fancy dress parties do it. The blogger Old Holborn does it. I am talking about face masks.
Face masks have been targeted as one of the things that the authorities may try to ban in the wake of the riots. Enforcing such a rule, even if it makes sense, strikes me as difficult. Perhaps the only way to interpret and enforce such a law would be to say that anyone wearing an item obscuring most of the face during a time of public disorder would be at risk of prosecution. (Wearing a ski mask should be illegal in the middle of a riot, but not on the slopes of Chamonix, for example). But again, how to decide when to impose the rule? Perhaps a public official, preferably a magistrate, has to read out what used to be called the riot act and after the reading of said act, anyone wearing a mask or suchlike is in trouble.
But it may not be so cut and dried as that, alas. There is the issue of public versus private space to consider. Owners of private property, such as shopping malls and the like, are entirely within their rights to insist that people entering the premises should show their faces, and comply with whatever codes of behaviour might be stipulated, however rational or otherwise, just as private members’ clubs and other places ought to be able to insist on dress codes, for example. Banks will typically insist that motorcyclists take off their helmets, if I recall correctly. (That makes perfect sense, for security reasons).
But as I know some regulars will ask, how does this ban on face masks apply to Muslim women who cover their faces behind a veil or other such form of costume? If such a person enters a shop, say, does this mean the police will now insist they show their faces? I’d like to see how that’s going to work. What about Islamist demonstrators against, say, military actions in the Mid-East? I cannot honestly see how the cops are going to successfully enforce a mask ban without a serious ruckus.
Like a lot of ideas that sound good to politicians in the heat of the moment, the notion of banning people from obscuring all or part of their faces is difficult as a general aim of the law, even if owners of private spaces are entitled, as they are, to make such demands. I can see all kinds of issues of interpretation coming up: what about a guy who wears a baseball cap with big sunglasses – is that illegal, or not? What counts as a “mask”? Surely, any law would need to consider the full context here, but it is not always obvious whether wearing a certain item signifies intent to avoid detection.
Instead of such silly measures, the government must focus its attention, as has been pointed out ad nauseam here, on the following areas:
–T ougher sentences for crimes of all kinds, including theft, which in far too many cases is treated as a minor matter. Such punishments must include restitution of the victim(s);
– Drastic cuts to welfare benefits combined with a big rise in tax thresholds at the bottom of the scale to make work pay. Even the dimmest thugs operate under some sort of cost/benefit analysis. Make work pay;
– Lowering the compulsory school-leaving age; change to labour market rules to encourage apprenticeships, vocational training;
– Allow people to use force in self defence, including firearms;
– Legalise (most) drugs. Yes, this is probably the most controversial idea, and maybe I would not enact this until the moral hazard-machine of the Welfare State has been seriously changed, but it is a key issue. If gangs don’t control the drugs trade, it undermines the gang culture more generally;
– Tax cuts more generally so that married spouses don’t feel under such pressure to both work to keep a decent income. This may also reinforce marriage and provide a better environment for children;
– Scrap the various quangos, race relations organisations and other tax-funded institutions that far from alleviating tensions, often inflame them by the manufacture of various grievances for classic bureaucratic empire-building reasons;
– Zero tolerance policing. Get some guys from New York over to London for some rapid tutorials.
I am sure there are more ideas on how to strengthen the family, encourage positive behaviours and deter bad ones, but it seems to me that trying to regulate dress codes in the streets is one of the most pointless unless the conditions can be very clearly defined in law and avoid arbitrariness. Not a good idea, Prime Minister. There are other, more urgent things to do, and time is short.