Thursday, July 01, 2010

Tory prison U-turn is an opportunity for Labour

This piece of mine appears in the First Post.

Kenneth Clarke’s ‘hand wringing’ prison policy isn't progressive - it's a classic Conservative attack on state provision

This has been a year of surprises. Leeds knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup. Tomas Berdych beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon. But now perhaps we have the biggest turn-up of them all: Labour attacking a Conservative-led government for being soft on crime.

Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke's dramatic reversal of the Tories 17-year-old 'Prison Works' policy has not only left grassroot Tories
fuming: it's upset Labour too.

Writing in the Daily Mail, former Home Secretary Jack Straw accused Clarke of returning to the flawed liberal "hand-wringing approach to crime", which marked a succession of post-war Home Secretaries before Michael Howard.


You can read the whole of the article here.

8 comments:

Karl Naylor said...

Neil-I'm back in London and will devote more time to London and UK issues. Questinnaire is the best person to get on this thread but my view runs like this.

The Elite, living a life apart from most ordinary people, play politics with crime in the UK to get support via the media by playing tough on crime when necessary.

In the long term neoliberalism and cruder utilitarian encourage crime as they see it either ONLY as the product of the environment or as innate Evil.

That depends on what political line is to be taken.

The Power Elite in Britain ( the "liberal -left) are uninterested in victims of crime as it rarely affects those protected behind gated communities.They make a fuss just to grab votes.

Yet the rapacious criminality of the elites , the tax evasion and flouting of the rule of law for material gain encourages gangsters to feel they are just powerless versions of the same.

That plus criminal psychopathologies unleashed by nihilistic ideas, an environment increasing dehumanised and alienating and the state being itself tainted with criminality hardly encourages virtue.

Dostoevsky knew that when he wrote Crime and Punishment. No mere reactionary conservative as often depicted, he remains a master of criminal pyschology.

Think about ultimate crimes of terrorism. Blair was more or less driven by psychopathological drives, the idea that as a Napoleon he could make sacrifices of huan beings to attain a goal in which more lives might be saved.

This was done with the consent of those who commit state crimes in the view that state sanctioned murder, not as defence as a last resort, is a historical necessity.

Those who convince themselves of their own delusions are dangerous. Blair never lied. He believed deception was a route to a Higher Goal.

Yet as Dostoevsky makes it clear psychopathological stongmen can also delude themselves that what they are doing is really for the good of the people.

Not even the Evil like to think of themselves as Evil.

As regards prison the liberal-lefts crude idea that man is a function of his environment is bound to create an upsurge in criminal pathology as it means an individual can blame it on his genes or background.

Wise conservatives know that man in innately evil. Prisons are there to reform but must have an element of punishment in them: people need to suffer, though not by cruelty.

The liberal-leftists of the 68er generation ( not traditional social democrats or Old Labour ) tend to see crime in stopgap protective terms: not as crime which deserves punishment.

Islamist terror cells can simply witness the deceptions of the British state and turn to nihilism-"if they can do that, then nothing we can do can rival it in criminality"

So they plot and hatch schemes. London has always been a place of violent confrontation, plots, and crime.It was reaching epidemic proportions in the C18th when the elite from Walpole onwards was venal, corrupt and elite

The C18th had a rentier finance capitalism which had higher crime rates and draconian punishments. Thatcher brought that aspect of British history back by destroying life opportunities for millions throgh destroying gainful employment.

This is why we are where we are now.

Karl Naylor said...

Ps my new Blog looks at London and UK issues once more. It's called "London Calling", a plea for sanity in an insane world.

It will blow apart smug orthodoxies no matter where they come from. I'd also like to recommend to the following Judt's Ill Fares the Land ( 2010) .

Questinnaire is a nit too harsh on "liberalism": liberalism is not one doctrine but its worst form is economic liberalism ( laissex faire ).

The idea of privatising prisons is a reduction to absurdity of neoliberal dogma. But, of course, what the USA does, Britain just must ape.

Karl Naylor said...

Ach....correction,

In the long term neoliberalism and cruder utilitarian encourage crime as they see it either ONLY as the product of the environment or as 'permanently' Evil.

All people have a disposition to evil, which is innate, but certain social conditions can exacerbate and bring out these latent psychopathologies.

Neil Clark said...

Hi Karl,
Thanks for your comments and good luck back in the UK and with your new blog.

Anonymous said...

I think Karl is basically right. I could write a long essay on this issue, but suffice it to say that what Dostoevsky recognised is what many criminologists also recognise - the power elite share with the serious criminal a means-oriented rationality and sensibility, the determination to simply 'get things done' in the service of imperatives laid down by a prefabricated end in the form of an external processual logic or ethos. Pablo Escobar combined the position of elite politician, in which role he constructed over 800 football grounds plus many other public amenities in Colombia with his own money, which he acquired by running a fairly murderous drug operation. It just had to be done by fair means or foul.

Clarke is merely 'getting things done' in the service of neoliberalism's logic and perverse morality. He doesn't really care about the long-term consequences of emptying the prisons, just as his predecessors didn't care about the long-term consequences of filling them up. Both actions were to save costs, as the prisons filled up with people who had mental health problems and fell foul of the cheapskate community care programme introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s, and who will be now put back on the street for exactly the same reason.

It's about money, and the system is run by individuals whose souls are emptied of all other considerations.

Criminal, really, all of it.

- questionnaire

Gregor said...

Interesting article, but I'm afraid I have to disagree. Whilst I support prison for violent offenders, firstly I don't think it works as a deterrence (given reoffending rates) and secondly I don't think sentencing is very fair. Overall, I see prisons as a relic of another time. Which isn't to say that violent offenders shouldn't be punished, but that they often get away with very light sentences whilst lesser offences get greater ones. Incidentally, I don't know if the Tory-Lib dem alliance have done away with the 'ten year prison sentence for taking photos of potential interest to terrorists' law, but it does demonstrate the absurdity of Britain's sentencing system.

(On this point, I think David Lindsey has written a good post).

Secondly, the idea of a left-right alliance is, I think, impossible. Whilst Peter Hitchens criticises market fanaticism and privatisation ideology more than a lot of (hrmhrm) 'left wing' journalists, at the end of the day he blames most things on 'socialists' who are apparently very powerful in modern Britain and just waiting for the right second to restart manufacturing. Whilst Pat Buchanan was an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, he ended up endorsing 'Dubya' for president.

I'm afraid that tribalism will trump any logical marriage of convenience. Which is why I think neo-liberalism is here to stay: it's easy for the Blairs and Cleggs and Goves to hold hands because their only core beliefs are Anglo-Saxon imperialism and free-market fanaticism.

jock mctrousers said...

I wouldn't get too optimistic over this. On Tory form, 'community-based solutions are likely to involve amputating hands and feet, castration, blinding, the stocks, workhouse, tattoing 'kill me' on the offenders forehead...and that's only what I can think of off the top of my head. Just wait to see what they come up with; maybe they'll hire Frank Field to 'think the unthinkable'.

Mr. Piccolo said...

Interesting news. I also feel that the Left should take a strong stance against crime. Poor people are often disproportionately the victims of criminals, and crime makes life in low-income neighborhoods even worse.

If the Left is going to be serious about protecting the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, they should be tough on those who prey on the poor and weak who can't afford to live in posh neighborhoods with expensive private security systems and the like.