Magazine article The Spectator

Things Have Come to a Pretty Pass When a Freeborn Englishman Is Not Allowed to Kill His Wife

Magazine article The Spectator

Things Have Come to a Pretty Pass When a Freeborn Englishman Is Not Allowed to Kill His Wife

Article excerpt


The government is considering a new law which would make it illegal to kill women, no matter how annoying they may have become.

Men should lose recourse to the defence of 'provocation', argues Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General. The idea came to her one night while she cowered in the utility room as her husband, the prominent trade unionist Jack Dromey, roamed the family home with an enormous axe, just like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, all unshaven and saliva dribbling down his chin, grinning and sweating and bellowing, 'Hhhheeeerrrrrre's Daddy!'

`He's going to claim I provoked him,' Harriet whispered to herself, hunkered down behind a row of plastic bottles of Mr Muscle, Vecta window cleaner, powerball tablets for the dishwasher and unblemished copies of Will Hutton's exciting, seminal work, The State We're In.

`Well,' she muttered defiantly, silently disentangling herself from a nest of J-Cloths and forest-fresh pine-scented New Labour toilet cleaner, `sod that.'

This scenario is only a guess, I should point out, if only to forestall a letter from Ms Harman's legal people - who, with her being Solicitor General, are probably quite formidable. I was just surmising, i.e., indulging for a moment in fiction.

And it's true that even under current law, if Jack were to kill Harriet with a couple of swift blows from a big axe and then claim 'provocation' as a defence, the prosecution would be entirely justified in dredging up and levelling against him that other discredited legal qualification: contributory negligence. Jack did, after all, take the strange decision to marry the woman in the first place. Suffused with lust, or perhaps simply out of respect for her incalculable political acumen, he at some stage popped the question, presumably. By which I mean that he knew exactly what he was getting into.

But it will be a sad day for British justice if Harriet's proposals - about which I was not joking - become enshrined in law.

Harriet is angry that men charged with murder of their wives all too often cry provocation and see the charge reduced to manslaughter. This should be stopped, she thinks. For countless centuries British men have been allowed to kill irritating women and suffer nothing more than a stern ticking-off from the judge, and maybe a couple of weeks mending dry-stone walls in the Peak District.

Not for much longer. No more will a judge be permitted to look kindly upon a man who claims he dispatched his wife in rage because she wilfully confused the preliminary stages of the Champions League with the Uefa Cup qualifying round. Or wrote off three cars, including his, while trying to park in a `Women with Toddlers and a Lack of Spatial Awareness'-designated parking spot at the local branch of Waitrose.

Nor will we be allowed to kill women if -- well, let's face it, when - they are serially unfaithful to us, sexually. In future, we shall just have to smile indulgently and put up with it, instead of resorting to the trusty old chainsaw, or the hairdryer flung in the bath.

I ought to admit that I have a personal interest here. A very early girlfriend of mine took the opportunity, while I was on holiday with my mum and dad in Paignton, of engaging in sexual intercourse with someone who was not only my best friend but also - crucially - the lead guitarist in our horribly cacophonous rock group, Dangerbird. …

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