Friday, June 23, 2006

Tony Blair - mediaeval madman?

You have to get 43 paragraphs into his speech on anti-social behaviour ("ASB", apparently) before you get to what he's really getting at.

Unfortunately, most journalists seem only to have made it to paragraph 38, where he mentions (among many other reasons, all to do with the shifting nature of social relations and structure during the last century - although most of them actually started with the dawn of the industrial age) "mass migration".

Some sections of the press, skimming through, seem to think this means he's blaming crime on immigration in yet another attempt to pander to the tabloids. He's not. At least, not really.

Blaming crime on newcomers and darkies may be populist for some sections of society, and may provoke others into blind rage, but the real worry is Blair's categorical statement that he supports "summary justice" - also known as "arbitrary justice", more properly described as "punishment based on accusation, not evidence":

"Because we care, rightly, about people's civil liberties, we have, traditionally, set our face against summary powers; against changing the burden of proof in fighting crime; against curbing any of the procedures and rights used by defence lawyers; against sending people back to potentially dangerous countries; against any abrogation of the normal, full legal process.

"But here's the rub. Without summary powers to attack ASB - ASBO's, FPN's, dispersal and closure orders on crack houses, seizing drug dealers assets - it won't be beaten.

"That's reality. And the proof is that until we started to introduce this legislation, it wasn't beaten"
That's right, folks - "anti-social behaviour" has been "beaten". He continues:
"Without the ability to force suspected organised criminals to open up their bank accounts, disclose transactions, prove they came by their assets lawfully, you can forget hitting organised crime hard. It won't happen."
Yep - sod evidence, sod the rule of law. Sod legal rights that have been established for centuries and survived riot, rebellion and revolt in tact.

The really odd thing, however, is that near the start of his lengthy speech (though soon countered with statistics suggesting a severe decline in law and order since the 1950s), Blair insists that crime has gone down since 1997 and seems to acknowledge that public fear of crime has risen disproportionately to the overall crime rate. In other words, that the problem is all perception, not reality. He argues first that there is no crisis, then uses the same non-existent crisis to propose fundamental changes in the way this country works.

He again repeats '97's mantra "Tough on Crime, tough on the causes of crime", yet dismisses all explanations of causes - from the "criminals are evil" brigade on one extreme to the "crime is caused by poverty and desperation" lot on the other.

In fact, Blair seems to have no idea what causes crime whatsoever. Which is fair enough, in many ways, as it's bloody complex. You'd be an idiot if you thought you could explain the thing. Which means you'd also an idiot to try and tackle its causes if you have no idea what those causes are.

So it's only appropriate that the causes of crime get not a single look-in during Blair's speech. No appeals to improved education, to fostering community relations (no mention of the Respect Agenda either - remember that?), to providing opportunities that may give alternatives to crime.

Instead, he focuses exclusively on how best to ensure criminals (both proven and suspected) are punished. And this is punishment as deterrant, not punishment as rehabilitation.

In other words, having again used the line about "fighting 21st century problems with 19thcentury solutions", Blair is proposing a return to pre-19th century solutions, where punishments were vastly disproportionate to the offence.

Blair's vision of justice is a medieval one - inflict so much harsh retribution on people who you think have failed to abide by the law that all live in terror of the power of the state, and only the most desperate or depraved resort to crime - only to be met by a system of justice that allows little or nothing in the way of defence (hence his mention of "curbing... the procedures and rights used by defence lawyers"). The summary justice apparently approved of by Blair is little better than branding, trial by combat, or throwing suspected witches into a river.

Ah, but how silly of me:
"Each time someone is the victim of ASB, of drug related crime; each time an illegal immigrant enters the country or a perpetrator of organised fraud or crime walks free, someone else's liberties are contravened, often directly, sometimes as part of wider society... if they [suspected terrorists] aren't deported and conduct acts of terrorism, their victims' rights have been violated by the failure to deport."
Of course - the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... (A twisted utilitarianism, Tony? I thought you'd already rejected the 19th century's contributions to the way we look at the world?)

But then comes the admission - hidden way down in the middle of the speech - of what the real thinking is here:
"even if they [suspected terrorists] don't commit such an act or they don't succeed in doing so, the time, energy, effort, resource in monitoring them puts a myriad of other essential task at risk and therefore the rights of the wider society."
In other words, to save time and - especially - money, it's better to punish the innocent.

With such brilliantly logical thinking, why not just shoot everyone in the head at birth? That'd prevent them from committing any crimes and save a lot of time, energy, effort and resources and all...

10 Comments:

Blogger Ben said...

It terrifies me that the increasingly desperate and frantic Prime Minister, who I used to admire as pragmatic and intelligent, is lurching ever increasingly to the right, and I am a Tory!
He talks about the 'justice gap', what he needs to talk about the reality gap between what his views (Daily Mail/Sun/News of the Screws editors couldn't be more vitriolic) and what real people actually think
It's going to take years and years and years to unwind all the appaling legislation this government churns out

6/23/2006 03:50:00 pm  
Blogger ken said...

Good Post

6/23/2006 04:12:00 pm  
Anonymous Andrew Zalotocky said...

I have a theory that Blair's recent enthusiasm for "summary justice" stems from the failure of his earlier attempts at public sector reform.

Even at the height of his popularity, with a clear mandate for change, he was too timid to push through real reforms in health, education, etc. Now it's too late, because all the vested interests and Old Labour ideologues that oppose any public sector reforms know that he will back down at the first sign of difficulty. It's hardly likely that he would be any braver, let alone any more successful, as an unpopular leader nearing the end of his career.

There are real problems in the justice system, such as the ineffectiveness of the CPS and a police force tied down by paperwork and political correctness. So there is a need for reform, made more urgent by the threat of terrorism and rising levels of crime. But Blair has already proven that he is incapable of reforming any part of the public sector.

Since he can't change the system, he is bypassing it. Summary justice takes the courts, CPS, etc, out of the loop but doesn't threaten jobs or force anybody in the system to work more effectively. Hence, it faces less opposition. Changes to the law like abolishing the double jeopardy rule have the same effect.

The loss of civil liberties that we have suffered under Blair is not a product of any ideology, but of his weakness.

6/23/2006 05:52:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that cause of crime is the reality that detection is unlikely and that should you be so unfortunate to be detected the punishment will be laughable.

And as that makes me sound like a Daily Mail reader, I'm going to post this anonymously!

6/24/2006 12:55:00 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

brilliant post

6/24/2006 06:32:00 pm  
Anonymous Charlie Whitaker said...

The day before he made that speech, he made this speech:

Actually I will be talking about crime, both today and tomorrow - but one of the things I will be saying is that part of the problem is that if you want a modern criminal justice system, taking the system as a whole, if you want that you have to focus on the offender and not simply the offence. And the whole purpose of the national offender management service is to try to get to the point where you deal with some of the issues that the people have who are committing the offences, otherwise what you do is you get into a debate about sentencing, which we can all have our views on, but the truth is if for example someone has got a drug addiction problem, or if somebody has got a mental health problem and the vast, probably the majority of people in prison have got one or other of those things, if not virtually all of them, then if you don't deal with that problem you can have a person come out of prison but it is not going to be long before they are reoffending and back in again.

So, goodbye to fixed term sentences and hello to indefinite 'treatment' orders? If he's around long enough to make it happen, that is.

6/24/2006 09:13:00 pm  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

"why not just shoot everyone in the head at birth? That'd prevent them from committing any crimes and save a lot of time, energy, effort and resources and all..."

The crime is life, the sentence is death.

6/24/2006 09:32:00 pm  
Anonymous Nicolas Papaconstantinou said...

"The crime is life, the sentence is death."

Fuck me.

A Judge Dredd reference in Europhobia.

Either I've not been paying attention in the short months I've been reading this blog, or we're in the end times, at last. Thank god.

Great post, though, and worring developments abound.

6/25/2006 02:45:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair to mediaeval madmen, the idea of adhering to the rule of law, in order to prevent society collapsing into a chaos of vigilantes and vendettas is generally associated with King Henry II in the twelfth century. I don't think any civilised society (if you exclude certain well known dictatorships from your definition of civilised) has ever adopted the Blair approach.

Chris

6/27/2006 09:32:00 am  
Blogger Postman said...

Like yourself I was struck by the Bristol soeech and have taken the trouble to read and decode it.

I was struck by..

23 June 2006 Bristol - Time for proper debate on law and order - Tony Blair “Moreover, the blunt reality is that, at least in the short and medium term, the measures proposed will mean an increase in prison places. How prison works is an essential component.”

As others have pointed out his view is punitive not redemptive - the short sharp shock which had it's 15 minutes of fame when he discovered that leading "yobs" to cash dispensers, was less than successful.

He is not alone - here in Rochdale our (then) Labour Council pioneered the use of a box of tricks (Mosquito) that issued a noisy hum whose frequency was inaudible to adults but was, to children, dogs and unruly youth who simply moved on to cause their disruptions elsewhere. (It did result in international TV coverage however)

When it was pointed out that to cause a noise nuisance was illegal, the Council and it's officers denied that they were causing a nuisance - which self evidently they were.

Finally the HSE convinced them - which the citizenry had failed to do, that they should cease and desist - which they did.

These atitudes are not mediaeval, they are Neanderthal - and that is probably a slur on those stooped low brows.

7/01/2006 03:23:00 pm  

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