“NEVER kick a man when he’s down” was a saying we were urged to observe when I was a lad.

I never quite understood whether it was meant to be taken literally or metaphorically, but was initially led to believe that it should be interpreted as an instruction not to heap further scorn or derision on the head of someone who had got him or herself into a spot of bother or embarrassment.

How times have changed.

These days, with violence endemic in our society, putting the boot in, whether the object of their anger is up or down, is the favoured form of aggression among yobbish elements in our society, be they male or female.

And in its metaphorical form, kicking someone when they are down is welcomed with unrestrained enthusiasm by the tabloid press. So one has to ask: How can Home Secretary Jacqui Smith survive the media storm which has erupted following revelations that her husband, Richard Timney, spent £10 on blue movies, then claimed it on Ms Smith’s parliamentary expenses?

People in high places can survive most things but becoming a joke is not one of them. Comics will have a field day with this one, which will run and run.

It comes at a singularly inopportune time for Ms Smith, already facing “bouncers” from critics who believe she is among an army of MPs milking the system over expenses.

During the past five years, she has claimed in excess of £150,000 for the cost of running her constituency property in Redditch, where Mr Timney and the couple’s two sons live.

That sum includes 88p for a bath plug, which one would assume a person earning £141,866 a year would be able to afford. It is also worth pointing out that Ms Smith’s husband, employed as her assistant, is paid £40,000 a year by the taxpayer.

He runs her constituency office while she is in London, living in a room at her sister’s, which she insists is her main home because of work commitments.

Gordon Brown was quick to jump to the Home Secretary’s defence, claiming she was doing a great job, but our Prime Minister, busy trying to save the world, was hardly likely to pour paraffin on the fire.

He has enough problems to face, every day of his life. The tabloids were far less amenable to restraint, pointing out with glee that Ms Smith was leading a campaign to strengthen legislation to curb the sex industry, among them tougher licensing laws for lap dancing clubs. So her hubby’s dalliance with movie porn was doubly embarrassing.

I am assured that we taxpayers will recover the “tenner” Richard spent on the films.

To be honest, I feel sorry for the poor chap. It can’t be much fun, living on your own in a “womanless” house in Redditch, while the Mrs is swanning around in the big city. Blue films are a pretty unimaginative substitute. Anyone with delusions of grandeur would surely have phoned for a £200 a night hooker.

If you are going to get kicked while you are down, make damn sure you’ve done something worth the kicking.