Friday, July 18, 2008
A liberal dose of knife-crime denial
This article of mine appears on The Guardian's Comment is Free website. Since it was published yet another teenager has been stabbed to death in London.
Denying that violent crime is on the increase (and that it's all been hyped up by the Daily Mail) is a regular theme of Polly Toynbee's Guardian columns.
But even Toynbee has been massively outflanked in the "Crisis, what crisis?" stakes in recent days.
On Friday, in his Cif article entitled What knife-crime epidemic?, Sunny Hundal called for a "sense of perspective" on the knife crime issue and claimed that "the figures don't actually bear out the reality of a crisis". At the time his piece was published, there had already been 19 teenagers stabbed to death in London this calendar year. And in the 32-hour period following its publication, no less than seven people lost their lives in stabbings in Britain.
New figures show that almost 60 people are stabbed or mugged at knifepoint every day. If such shocking statistics don't constitute a "crisis" for Hundal, perhaps he could kindly inform us as to what level of knife crime in Britain would?
By denying the scale of the problem, and pretending that rising violent crime is an invention of rightwing tabloids, the liberal-left are, in effect, defending a society that is far from being a progressive, leftist model.
We live in what is easily the most ruthless capitalist society in Europe. Our European neighbours still have areas where capital is not allowed to go: here, almost every aspect of our lives is governed by market forces. The postwar Labour chancellor of the exchequer Sir Stafford Cripps, who once said that "inducements of a material kind can never and will never replace the spiritual urge which transcends our own personal interests", would turn over in his grave if he could see just how selfish and materialistic our society has become.
The rampant, me-first individualism – the seeds of which were sown in the 1960s, and which came to fruition with the Thatcherite reforms of the 1980s, have exacted a heavy cost on our collective wellbeing. We have the highest level of drug use and the second highest level of drug deaths in Europe. Over 2 million Britons are on anti-depressants. The Samaritans report that 5 million people in Britain are "extremely stressed", while last year, a Unicef report listed Britain's brands-obsessed children as the unhappiest in Europe. "We live in a greedy culture, we are rude to each other in the street," headteacher Sir Alan Steer told the Guardian last week, making the connection between the economic system we live under and the deterioration in standards of behaviour. Within a generation, our towns and cities have been transformed into violent and dangerous places: according to the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS), Britain comes second in the league table of 28 rich countries, whose citizens were asked if they have been attacked or threatened in the past five years.
You would have thought the liberal-left would be attacking – and not defending such an atomised and dysfunctional society.
But the fact that privatised, New Labour Britain, with its yawning wealth gap and price tag on every human value, is also a multiracial society which allows gay people to enter into civil partnerships, seems to be enough for some on the liberal-left to rally behind it.
In truth, the Britain of the 1940s and 50s, with its high level of state involvement in the economy, its staunchly progressive taxation system and its strong sense of community had far more to commend it from a leftist viewpoint than the Britain of 2008. And the greater social cohesion of the times, undoubtedly impacted on the crime rate.
What would the Metropolitan police do now to have to deal with only 28 armed robberies in one year – the total in 1949? How much would today's parents give to be able to bring up their children in a country where teenagers didn't carry knives and in which the word "mugging" was unheard of? A society in which people regularly left their houses unlocked and walked the streets without fear of attack?
In 1956 there were only 32 convictions for murder in the whole of Britain – in 2007/8 there were 167 murders in the Metropolitan police area alone.
A time-traveller from 1950s Britain would be astonished at the level of violent crime in the country today.
And having digested the daily diet of news of fatal stabbings and horrific murders, they'd be equally astonished at the complacency of those on the liberal-left who go around muttering "Crisis – what crisis?"
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Knife-crime has been imported from the West Indies. Before 1950, it was a totally un-English crime, considered cowardly in the extreme. How many murders through the knife in pre-war England? None.
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