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Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?

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Even the Dead Have Not Seen the End of Folly

In June 1967, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, was sentenced to three months in prison for possession of a few amphetamine tablets. Jagger was a first-time offender caught with French seasickness pills, which are openly sold in France but required a prescription in England. On July 1st 1967, The Times, and its new editor, William Rees-Mogg invoked Pope and denounced the excessive sentence in “Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?” Rees-Mogg criticized the judge for undue severity in a minor drugs case, while arguing that justice ought to be the same for the rich and the poor, for the famous and the unknown. It was an editorial where the establishment and the counter-culture came together.

We are at similar crossroads again. Last month, Charlie Gilmour, the stepson of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, pled guilty to violent disorder exhibited during the student riots over tuition fee increases last December. Gilmour was a male model who was as the Independent put it, “more Beau Brummel than Che Guevara”. As he infamously climbed up the Cenotaph, the Cambridge history student, was oblivious to what the Cenotaph symbolized. (David Gilmour who once famously sang, “We don’t need no education” could probably see some irony here.)

Young Gilmour was sentenced to 16 months in jail — an abnormally harsh punishment for a first-time offender whose indiscretions, while excessive, were committed during a protest march. Twitter is abuzz with outrage, and today, the Times thundered again with indignation. I have nothing but contempt for Gilmour’s acts; I viewed them as pure hooliganism; in Gilmour, I saw a privileged scion protesting against tuition fee increases. First and foremost, it was a selfish act to preserve a broken faux-egalitarian system that handouts free rides to the rich and the privileged.

But as Rees-Mogg would say, it is possible for the guilty to be prosecuted in an entirely unfair way. And now he has. The class-conscious courts which sentence the infringers from poorer backgrounds to community service have felt that Gilmour’s celebrity status would send a strong signal.

Yes, it did. But it was a signal as misguided and disgraceful as the one Gilmour cadenced from the Cenotaph to proclaim. And equally wrong.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 3, 2011 at 8:25 am

6 Responses

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  1. I agree that as a signal it was misguided but only because Britain is far, far, far beyond recall.

    It would seem that we are beyond the point we can say “There will always be an England and England shall be free.”

    The Rees-Moogs and the Gilmores and their ilk have all played their part in the implosion.

    Pope? Pope would have had their heads.


    August 3, 2011 at 9:26 am

  2. I think the length of the sentence might have something to do with the fact that he also hurled a dustbin at the car in which the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall sat. I assume that would stir the ire of the establishment sufficiently to incur a prison sentence. By way of comparison, in Holland (where I live) a man who threw a small pyrex candleholder against the ceremonial (armoured) horsedrawn carriage of the Dutch queen as it was passing last year, has still not been given a trial after being held for more than 300 days in solitary at one of the country’s highest-security prisons (amongst murderers and rapists). Given that Gilmour will only serve a fraction of the sentence, the fuss seems a bit over the top. At least he got bail and a trial.

    I’m no lawyer, but perhaps the question of intent also plays a role. Jagger accidentally broke the law, whereas Gilmour deliberately broke the law and is said to have explicitly stated that it was his intention to do so.


    August 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    • isn’t acting upon having drugs in your possession considered intent. but anyways besides my point…the point of her (amusingly well doing fairly very good) article was to inform about another incident that pushed the publics eye toward an issue of the law that harnesses terrible connotation for unjustified reasons.

      not shitting on your point, but I liked this post a whole bunch because it informed me of an issue that has to be addressed across around the world (and especially amurica, where i’m from) in momentous tuition fee increases in a statistically significant worldwide economic teeter totter. -hisownword


      August 8, 2011 at 7:14 am

  3. “the Cambridge history student, was oblivious to what the Cenotaph symbolized”

    Words fail.


    August 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

  4. I really think the kid deserves the sentence for simply being such a moron. On the other hand, 16 months in prison, at the public’s expense… it’s not as if the public needs to be sheltered from a violent felon….


    August 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm

  5. I’m sorry he is a Cambridge history student who has be given every privilege in life and suddenly he doesn’t know what the Cenotaph stands for and he throws a bin at the Royal car and trashes a shop excuse me no he should have been sent to jail.

    Maybe next time him and his friends will remember there is a price to pay for every action – he is a brat

    Mrs D

    August 4, 2011 at 9:33 pm

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