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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tough on Crime?

This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Nick Cohen is right.

It's not a sentence I often write, but it's true all the same. No, don't worry, I'm not referring to Nick's wholly misguided support for the invasion of Iraq, but his Observer article on the government's complacency towards violent crime.

In the piece, Nick takes schools minister Ed Balls to task for trying to play down fears on rising juvenile crime and for claiming that "every generation has always had kids that get into trouble."
Balls' complacency reminded me of the line taken by Joe Bullman's recent Channel 4 series, The Seven Sins of England, which claimed that "binge-drinking, rudeness, violence, hooliganism, slaggishness, consumerism and bigotry" were not modern phenomena, but an ancient and integral part of our national heritage.
But the truth is that things were not always as bad as they are today. For most of the 20th century, Britain was a peaceful, law-abiding country, noted by foreign visitors for the gentle behaviour of its inhabitants. The introduction of a modern police force and an efficient criminal justice system, the extension of compulsory state education and the strong moral guidance provided by institutions such as Sunday school, had all made an impact on reducing lawlessness by the late 19th century.

Things got even better in the 1940s. Social conservatism was combined with economic socialism and produced a genuinely cohesive, unmaterialistic society, where people could walk the streets at any time of day or night without fear of attack. Murder, when it did occur, was so rare that it was invariably front-page news, as were armed robberies: in 1949, there were just 28 armed robberies in the whole of the Metroplitian police region.

The main reason why so many media pundits and politicians are so complacent regarding violent crime is because, by and large, they do not live in the inner-city areas where crime is such a problem. Neither are they from the social class most affected by crime.
Rather than acknowledge the extent of the problem, sections of the liberal-left instead peddle the increasingly unsustainable line that violent crime is a figment of the Daily Mail's imagination. But as Nick Cohen says, if anything, with 300 murders a year more than in the 1970s, the media can just as well be accused of ignoring crime, as whipping up unnecessary fear.
The liberal-left's head-in-the-sand approach fails the very people the left is supposed to represent: the working class. It also prevents discussion - and implementation - of some of the socialist, soliarity-building measures that could be introduced to reduce crime: most importantly, the urgent need to rein in today's rapacious turbo-capitalist system, which, by encouraging selfishness and materialism, has done so much to destroy the camaraderie that once existed.

I'm sure that if there were more working-class representation in parliament and the media, things would be different. Contrast the comments of the middle-class New Labour minister Ed Balls (son of an academic and civil servant, educated at Nottingham High School and Keble College, Oxford) with those of Bob Wareing, the working-class "Old" Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, in whose constituency the family of Rhys Jones, the recently murdered 11-year-old, lives. Responding to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's calls for a gun amnesty, Wareing said:
"Does she honestly believe the people capable of perpetrating this terrible crime are going to hand over their guns? Of course they're not. We need far more resources for the police. If you walk around Croxteth, you will hardly see a policeman. We need to see them on the ground because we have got to crush this gang culture".
Wareing went on to call for new curbs on violent films that glorify gang culture, and said that Conservative leader David Cameron was right to focus on the need to tackle Britain's "broken society".

In the past, the Labour party was full of MPs like Bob Wareing (a local man, the son of a lorry driver, educated at state school, with an extra-mural degree from London University). Today, it is full of people like Ed Balls. Therein lies the problem.


David Lindsay said...

I've re-printed this on my blog. I'd only add that Balls is part of the massive, but almost entirely unremarked upon, Oxonian domination of the present Cabinet, which is as Oxford as John Major's was Cambridge.

Major might have had his famously humble roots, and Brown might appear the same way to Fleet Street and the BBC, since he is Scottish and holds non-Oxbridge degrees (are they not a contradiction in terms?).

But Major was surrounded by Cambridge men, while Brown has an Oxonian husband and wife, a pair of eye-wateringly highborn Oxonian brothers, and many more besides.

Anglonoel said...

The "Socialist Worker" line I remember back from the 90s- "The Tories Are The Real Criminals"- is a load of use after you've been mugged or burgled, isn't it?

For a serious "Left" discussion of anti-social crime, you could do a lot worse than visit: