Category Archives: anti-social behaviour

Triggering the community

I’ve written a paper on anti-social behaviour and, in particular, the ‘Community Trigger’. It’s based entirely on published sources, so the conclusion is basically that somebody ought to do some proper research on this – I’m hoping to get some funding to do just that. In the mean time here’s the abstract and the references, in case anyone’s interested in the kind of stuff I’m doing at the moment (at least, the more policy-ish end of it; more skirmishes in the region of legal theory to come).

Noisy students, pro-life protesters and street football: How the Community Trigger has refined our understanding of anti-social behaviour

Abstract

This paper reviews the experience of the Community Trigger pilot schemes carried out in England in 2012 and 2013. The Community Trigger, now enacted in law, is a mechanism whereby people affected by anti-social behaviour (ASB) can request a review of their case, which has to be undertaken if repeated complaints have been made with an unsatisfactory response. The experience of the Community Trigger pilots offers a testing ground for different conceptions of ASB – considered variously as ‘neighbourhood disorder’, as ‘incivilities’ and as the actions of an ‘anti‑social minority’ – and for approaches to addressing ASB, based on different understandings of where authentic knowledge of ASB resides (with legislators, with local specialists or with the individuals affected). The pilots demonstrate wide variation among the areas involved, suggesting that different approaches to ASB and its management are likely to persist. Given the inherent variability of ASB – considered as ‘context-dependent’ disorder – the persistence of local and regional variation is likely to pose challenges for measurement of ASB and of the success of any centrally-driven initiatives to address it.

References

Bannister, J. and Kearns, A. (2013), “The function and foundations of urban tolerance: Encountering and engaging with difference in the city”, Urban Studies 50(13): 2700-17.
Blair, A. (2006), speech at Downing St, 10 January; online at <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4600156.stm&gt; (last accessed 19/6/2014).
Bottoms, A. (2009), “Disorder, order and control signals”, British Journal of Sociology 60(1): 49‑55.
Bryant, R. and Egerton, J. (2013), Manchester City Council Community Trigger Assessment Report, Manchester: Manchester City Council.
Castleton, P. (2013), Brighton and Hove Community Trigger Trials Assessment Report, report to Brighton and Hove Community Safety Forum, 10 June.
Cocker, S., Hunn, P. and Eden. A. (2013), Community Trigger Trial – Boston Borough Assessment Report, Boston: Boston Borough Council.
Crawford, A. (1999), “Questioning appeals to community within crime prevention and control”, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 7(4): 509-530.
Donoghue, J. (2008), “Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) in Britain: Contextualizing risk and reflexive modernization”, Sociology 42(2): 337-355.
Duff, R. (2003), Punishment, Communication, and Community, Oxford: OUP.
Edwards, P. (2013a), “Anti-social behaviour, harassment and the context-dependent victim”, Nottingham Law Journal 22: 119-32
Edwards, P. (2013b), “How the news was made: The Anti-Social Behaviour Day Count, newsmaking criminology and the construction of anti-social behaviour”, Critical Criminology 21(2): 211-25
Home Office (2013), Empowering communities, protecting victims: Summary report on the community trigger trials, London: Home Office.
Innes, M. (2004), “Signal crimes and signal disorders: notes on deviance as communicative action”, The British Journal of Sociology 55(3):335-55.
Jackson, J. and Bradford, B. (2009), “Crime, policing and social order: on the expressive nature of public confidence in policing”, British Journal of Sociology 60(3):493-521.
Jaconelli, J. (1995), “Context-Dependent Crime”, Criminal Law Review 10: 771-82.
Kearns, A. and Bannister, J. (2009), “Conceptualising tolerance: paradoxes of tolerance and intolerance in contemporary Britain”, Italian Journal of Sociology of Education 1(2):126‑147.
MacDonald, S. (2006), “A suicidal woman, roaming pigs and a noisy trampolinist: Refining the ASBO’s definition of ‘anti-social behaviour’”, Modern Law Review 69(2): 183-213.
Michael, A. (1998), Standing Committee B, Crime and Disorder Bill (House of Lords), 5 May (morning).
Millie, A. (2006), “Anti-social behaviour: Concerns of minority and marginalised Londoners”, Internet Journal of Criminology; online at <http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/Millie%20-%20Anti-social%20Behaviour.pdf&gt; (last accessed 19/6/2014).
Millie, A. (2008), “Anti-social behaviour, behavioural expectations and an urban aesthetic”, British Journal of Criminology 48(3): 379-394.
Nowakowski, A. (2013), Richmond’s Community Trigger Pilot Assessment Report, Richmond: Richmond upon Thames Community Safety Partnership.
Prior, D. (2005), “Civil renewal and community safety: Virtuous policy spiral or dynamic of exclusion?”, Social Policy & Society 4(4): 357-367.
Simester, A. and von Hirsch, A. (2002), “Rethinking the offense principle” Legal Theory 8(3): 269-295.
von Hirsch, A. and Simester, A. (eds.) (2006), Incivilities: Regulating offensive behaviour, Oxford: Hart.
West Lindsey District Council (2013), Community Trigger Trial Assessment Report, West Lindsey: West Lindsey District Council.

Just another country

1. The obligatory Italian parallel

The true intentions of certain groups of young people, who had arrived at Parco Lambro with their ski-masks in their rucksacks alongside their spanners and bottles of petrol, became clear yesterday afternoon … there was the sense of an organised manoeuvre, in the true sense of the word, and police intervention became inevitable: stones were thrown from one side, tear-gas grenades from the other
– l’Unità, 29th June 1976

Last night was an extreme situation. We haven’t dealt with such co-ordinated looting before. People set out to steal. This is a type of organised crime we’ve never seen before. This was organised: I was out last night and people were asking for directions to our town centre in order to attack it. … Businesses are angry, but people are calm. They understand this wasn’t social unrest, it was something different.
– Stella Creasy MP, 8th August 2011

I understand what has led many young people to break shop windows, but I don’t consider it to be the next step in the Italian revolution.
– Rossana Rossanda, 1977

2. Three tweets about looting

@jamesrbuk James Ball
Hard to see anything overly political in the looting of an electrical store (Curry’s) on other side of town (>10miles) to #Tottenham

@kpunk99 Mark Fisher
The right wing line on #tottenham makes no sense: if it’s all down to ‘criminals’, why the sudden upsurge in ‘criminality’ last night?

@sunny_hundal sunny hundal
Seems to me, what encourages looting isn’t poverty but the expectation you can get away with it. Same applies to the banks


3. Why Cynthia Jarrett is less relevant than the Martians

This is a peculiarly unsatisfactory piece: Jonathan Jones observes that images of the Tottenham riot and its aftermath make him feel weird (they are “uncanny and reminiscent of late Victorian science fiction”), then suggests that evoking apocalyptic imagery might be “a corrective to the mis-application of history”, i.e. the temptation to draw parallels with the rioting of the early 80s. But why shouldn’t we draw parallels with the 80s – why would that be a mis-application of history? Jones’s answer, in total, is: the rioters themselves are too young to remember the 80s; Marx warned against misapplying historical parallels in the 18th Brumaire; and…

It is worth looking at images of London’s violent weekend and asking how they make you feel. Far from fitting into any historical model, they seem to me to come from an imagined London, a horror scenario of the city as a blazing wilderness

…in other words, images of the Tottenham riot and its aftermath make him feel weird. What Jones is resisting here becomes a bit clearer in an afterword:

Walking out in my neighbourhood after writing this, I found that Gay’s the Word bookshop on Marchmont Street, one of central London’s best-known gay landmarks, had its window smashed last night. A substance seems to have been thrown at the window before it was broken. This was the only business attacked on the street. So much for any attempt to see radicalism (at least of a cuddly leftwing variety) in these events.

I’ve got to say, I’m gutted to hear that Gay’s the Word has been attacked & hope they get back to normal before too long. (That said, I’m not aware of any trouble in Bloomsbury on Sunday night – this could just be a nasty coincidence.) But there’s a more important point, which is that – as far as I can tell – nobody anywhere is reading a “cuddly leftwing radicalism” into the riots; certainly nobody is saying that looting Curry’s in Brixton was a political gesture. The “Robin Hood” interpretation of the rioting is a strawman, just as much as it was when Rossanda dismissed it in 1977: Jones (and James Ball) can trample it all they like, but it won’t dispose of the real question posed by the riots.

4. Where are we going, and why are we all in this handcart?
What people are saying (self included) is that politics doesn’t stop when crime starts. There are reasons why people steal and smash windows; more importantly, there are reasons why most people don’t steal and smash windows, most of the time. (Sunny was more or less on the right track here – but I don’t think the calculation that you wouldn’t get away with it is the only reason why people tend to obey the law, or the most important one.) One or two people whose behaviour isn’t governed by our usual reasons to obey the law is a problem for the police, the social services and politicians, in that order. The problem becomes political first and foremost when lots of people start acting differently – when all those reasons suddenly stop working in a particular place and time. And then, as Mark says, the question why can’t be avoided. More to the point, the question why is an interesting question – and it’s one that politics is much better equipped to answer than evocations of Wells or fantasies of manoeuvres organised by lurking criminal networks, vast and cool and unsympathetic.

What do I think it’s all about? A couple of quotes, lifted from comments on Guardian posts:

Even if the rioting is just an opportunity to lob stuff at the police and loot local mobile phone and shoe shops (as it appears to be in Enfield) it’s obvious something has been brewing for a while. It may be disorganised and opportunistic but still speaks of a disatisfaction with things as they are.

There’s a widespread myth that law and order is preserved by police, politicians and other forces of authority. Not true. Never has been. If we all decide to go out and chuck a dustbin through Argos’s window and help ourselves, it would take about 15 million coppers to contain it. We actually have about 150,000.

Law and order is kept by a collective acceptance of mutual goals. If, as a society, we look after each other, offer everyone a share and a stake in the common weal, maintain some semblance of a Rousseauian Social Contract, then the vast majority of people will mostly stick to the rules without ever needing to see a police officer. When people lose that sense of being looked after, no longer feel part of society, no longer feel like they have any kind of share in any kind of collective, the ties that bind begin to be broken.

Rioting, especially the type of vandalism and looting we’ve seen in London, is a sure sign that the social contract is unravelling around the edges. In the days and weeks and months to come, we shall see how far it has frayed.

A Socialist Worker friend of mine once explained to me in some detail how every Prime Minister since Attlee had been to the Right of the one before; I’m not sure how he got over Macmillan/Wilson, but he made quite a good case for Heath/Wilson. (This was before Thatcher/Major). I wouldn’t go that far, but it does seem pretty clear that certain trends that were set in motion during Thatcher’s first term have never really been reversed. Over the last 30 years, work at every level has been steadily proletarianised: employment is nothing but a contract providing money in return for a working day, and a contract that is ever easier for the employer to revoke. Business values permeate all areas of society. The overriding goal, at all times, is to turn a profit: anything that contributes to that goal is good, anything that doesn’t is dispensable at best. The service ethic – the idea of taking pride in a job well done, at whatever level; the idea that the job you do is a way of contributing to a society where ‘we look after each other’ – is little more than a nostalgic fantasy. The institutions that used to nurture it, and whose daily workings made it into a lived reality, have been asset-stripped and hollowed out by ideologues with MBAs. Social life has been radically privatised, and deinstitutionalised in the process – party membership, union membership, local authority employment have dwindled away, without anything taking their place. One of the things that gets eroded in the process is deference to authority – because who are these authority figures anyway? Just ordinary people, just interchangeable employees doing an interchangeable job – even if the job involves chasing people with sticks. (And then they start talking about a Big Society!)

What’s it like to grow up in this world – a world where your only consistent role is to ‘consume’, because nobody, at any level, has any interest in you as a worker? What’s it like to be told that you’ve got to take whatever job you can get, on whatever pay you’re offered, and not to depend on the job still being there for you next year or next week? What’s it like to be told that you’ve got to prove you’re actively looking for work before you can sign on as unemployed – or that you’ve got to prove that you’re incapable of work before you can claim disability benefit – and you’ve got to prove these things to someone who won’t get paid if they believe you? And what’s it like to have grown up in a world like this, and then to be told by a government of unprepossessing Old Etonians that you’ve had it far too easy up to now? And then, what’s it like to read that those same politicians, and the people who write the papers you buy, and the police who keep everything under control, are all involved in a network of corruption and deceit?

What we’ve got at the moment isn’t a protest movement, or even a wave of riots; if anything, it’s a particularly long and broad wave of looting. And looting isn’t a political act – but it sends a definite political message. It says, I’m not going to wait any longer; I’m not going to wait for next month or next year when I could have what I want now. It says, I’m not going to play by the rules of your system; I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but right now I’m having it. It says, I’m not going to live in your world any longer; I don’t know where I’m going to be next week, but right now I’m just going to do what I want.

5. A concluding unscientific postscript
Paul:

while people may have come together to riot and loot, they are likely to be doing so for different reasons. Some may be angry that they have no job.  Some may be keen to have a free mobile handset. Still more may be there because they fear their friends would call them a “pussy” if they did not attend.  Others may be there because they want to be able to talk about it with their mates in the days and weeks to come. For most indeed the reasons will not be fixed, and may change during the evening. I am sure some will have gone down for a look, and found the temptation of a broken-into off-licence a little too great.

We can, ultimately, establish no single motivation, and it is useless to try.  It just makes you sound like Theresa May. What we can say, though, is something about comparative incentives.

Most people from richer areas, who have jobs or who have a good chance of getting a good job, will not riot in the next day or few because their retaining their job or job chance through not getting a criminal record is greater than any of the other incentives I have listed above. … People from poorer, more deprived areas and backgrounds are rioting for different, shifting motivations, but they are doing so because they do not have enough invested in what the state can offer them to outweigh the benefits of that rioting. That is, the state has temporarily failed, because a significant group of people in London have decided it is just not worth living within its jurisdiction.

And Laurie:

People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all.

To end on the ghost of a positive note, that sense of collective power – that if you get a few people together, suddenly the rules don’t have to apply any more – is at the heart of a lot of radical mobilisation, although intellectual honesty compels me to note that it’s also at the heart of counter-revolutionary mobilisations and pogroms. Either way, a lot of the kids who were out last night are going to remember that feeling – is it ridiculously optimistic to hope that some of them will draw the right lesson (“don’t forget, we can also build”)? But that’s some way off. For now, I’m afraid things are going to get worse before they get better – I don’t see why the looting shouldn’t kick off again tonight (or any other night, for that matter), and the crackdown when it comes is going to be no fun at all.

I’m still here

It’s been a busy few weeks. When I got abstracts accepted at the York Deviancy Conference and the British Society of Criminology conference, I wasn’t really thinking about how close they would be together; I wasn’t really thinking about where the papers would come from, either, although I knew that I had a couple half-written and a bunch of relevant material downloaded. Many days of intensive reading and bibliography-snowballing ensued; I called a halt to this when I realised that every paper I read was bringing up three or four interesting references, so that I was going backwards all the time. (Even now, with both papers written & delivered, there are 137 papers in my “ASB/To read” folder, but I’m happy to say that there are even more in the main (read) ASB folder.) The writing was gratifyingly easy, as it often is when I’ve got something to say and an occasion to say it; it’s just a shame how rarely both conditions apply.

Anyway, I went to York (on Thursday the 30th of June and Friday the 1st of July), & then went to Newcastle for the BSC (on Monday the 4th); I’ve since had to give another two presentations in another two Northern towns, although I won’t go into those. Busy, busy – not to mention tired, tired.

At York I gave

Broken windows, broken promises: from the CSO to the ASBO.

This paper looks into the origins of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order, New Labour’s talismanic instrument of social control over disorderly individuals. The Community Safety Order, proposed by Labour in opposition, was designed to address concerns expressed in working-class communities about the difficulty of either deterring or prosecuting certain forms of criminal activity. Instead of the CSO, Labour in power introduced the ASBO: an all-purpose instrument for the control of non-criminal behaviour, whose widespread use – encouraged by central government – led predictably to the criminalisation of large numbers of vulnerable and marginalised people. A measure which could have been used to empower disrupted communities was, in practice, an instrument for entrenching exclusion and disempowerment. Drawing on parliamentary and public statements by some of the politicians responsible, this paper will identify the key factors in this evolution, including the influence over the Home Office of American ‘right realism’ and the influence over Tony Blair of Thomas Hobbes.

This went over OK, although it was perhaps a bit socio-legal for the venue. Another slight problem was that the conclusions weren’t as dramatic as I’d hoped they would be. My hunch when I started researching this properly was that the initial impetus for the CSO was broadly progressive and left-realist-ish – the proverbial ‘neighbours from hell’ are a real problem, and it doesn’t impinge mostly on rich people. I have to say that research didn’t really bear this out, although I may just need to dig down a bit further. Also, I never got to the bit about Hobbes, although I did make some non-trivial connections with the “Broken Windows” agenda (and, more to the point, the original “BW” article).

At Newcastle, three days later, I gave

Did you observe all the warnings? The ASB Day Count and the production of the anti-social

This paper looks at the relationship between anti-social behaviour, social control and criminal justice, by way of the apparently technical question of how a cost can be put on incidents of anti-social behaviour. It takes as its starting-point the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Day Count, an exercise carried out in order to both enumerate and place a monetary value on anti-social behaviour. The continuities and discontinuities between the Day Count and its inspiration, Stanko’s 2000 ‘domestic violence audit’, are traced. Together with an analysis of the methodological flaws of the Day Count, this makes it possible to make some suggestions as to the type of knowledge which the Day Count was set up to produce. This discussion is then related to more general considerations regarding the difficulty of enumerating or evaluating unwanted social interactions experienced in the form of a continuous ‘climate’ or as a series of individually trivial ‘incidents’, and the parallel difficulty of controlling this type of trouble through the criminal justice system. The paper concludes by arguing that the anti social behaviour powers introduced under New Labour tend to resolve troublesome situations into a series of infringements which can be punished through social exclusion, to the detriment of the communities affected and of the criminal justice system itself; a much more far-reaching review of these powers is called for than the Coalition has so far announced.

This went pretty well; the main problem was getting it into a 15-minute slot. There’s some quite interesting stuff in there about the costings used in the ASB Day Count, and some stuff about Betsy Stanko’s DV audit, and… and much, much more. (The ‘climate’/’incidents’ stuff is still a bit undeveloped.) I ended up wrapping it up with more “Broken Windows” and a killer line (not my own) about “internal outsiders”. A very senior criminologist in the front row was seen to burst out laughing at this juncture, doubtless from the sheer delight of intellectual discovery. (Or it may just have been that the VSC in question has used that line himself.)

Anyway, there’s work to do on both of these before they’re ready to publish, but published they will be.

On a related topic, my publishers supplied me with flyers offering my book at a special conference rate – a 50% discount, or £30, which for a well-produced academic hardback isn’t totally absurd. I know that just leaving the flyers lying around doesn’t guarantee that everyone who might want one manages to get one; fortunately I’ve got a few left over. So if you missed out on a flyer and would like one now, get in touch.

Says there’s none

All RIGHT! Whoo! Are there any LEGAL THEORISTS in tonight???

OK then. (Hi Rob!)

Here are some thoughts on regulation and the law. This is a slightly abbreviated version of a paper I gave at a seminar earlier this year, which I’m planning to write up at greater length for publication.

I’d like to examine the conditions which make it possible for regulation to be both just and effective, and the conditions which make it problematic. For clarity, I am defining regulation here as the continued monitoring of an actor’s actions, by an agency authorised to do so, on the understanding that deviation from declared expectations will be met with some form of corrective response. Regulatory monitoring is not itself a punishment and does not require the prior establishment of guilt; it may be entirely prospective rather than retrospective, carrying with it no stigma for the actor whose activities are regulated.

Regulation can have very different associations, depending in part on who is being regulated and by whom. We can distinguish between professional regulation, in which organisations which wield power within society submit to regulation by specialist agencies; behavioural regulation, in which state authority is brought to bear on relatively powerless individuals; and regulation from below, in which pressure from individuals regulates the actions of powerful agencies.

Much comment on behavioural regulation, as exemplified by anti-social behaviour (ASB) legislation, has been highly critical – and critical in ways which calls into question whether this type of approach should be dignified with the name of regulation. It has been argued that behavioural regulation, rather than modifying behaviour without penal stigmatisation, does in practice stigmatise and punish – indeed, that it tends to undermine established principles of criminal justice, singling out undesirables for fast-tracked punishment. Anti-social behaviour legislation is not unique in this respect. Parallels have been drawn with control orders (Macdonald 2007); like ASBOs, these single out specified individuals for restrictive treatment. This raises the question of whether the defects of the ASBO system are parallelled in the control order regime – or even whether they are implicit in any attempt to apply the regulatory approach to individual behaviour.

I’ll address these questions by way of some comments on ‘technical regulation’ from the Russian legal theorist Evgeny Pashukanis.

A railroad schedule regulates the movement of trains in a very different sense than, say, the law on the liability of railroads regulates the relationship of the latter with freight shippers. Regulation of the first type is primarily technical; the second primarily legal.

The basic assumption of legal regulation is … the opposition of private interests. … The conduct of people may be regulated by the most complex rules but the legal element in this regulation begins where the individualization and opposition of interests begins. … Unity of purpose is, on the contrary, the premise of technical regulation. Therefore the legal norms concerning the liability of railroads presume private claims, private individualized interests; the technical norms of railroad movement suppose a single purpose, e.g. the achievement of maximum freight capacity.
(Pashukanis 2001 (1924))

For Pashukanis, the law concerns itself above all with conflicts between private interests. A railway timetable may impose obligations on many different people, failure to meet which may reasonably be penalised; Pashukanis cites other examples of ‘technical regulation’ such as a troop mobilisation plan or a course of medical treatment. However, what is at issue in such a case is an individual’s failure to contribute to the realisation of a common interest, as in the case of a train driver who turns up to work five minutes late, and consequently causes a scheduled connection to be missed. While the train driver has impeded the achievement of a common interest in punctuality, there is no conflict of interests here: the train driver is not pursuing a personal interest in disrupting the system. The disruption caused by the driver’s failure to meet an agreed obligation can be dealt with, in Pashukanis’s terms, through technical rather than legal regulation – or in our terms, through regulation rather than the law.

Pashukanis argues that the domain of regulation is defined by the unity of purpose conferred by a recognised common interest. This emphasis chimes with much contemporary comment on professional regulation, which stresses the need for the regulatory standards to be embedded in the culture of the organisation being regulated. However, Pashukanis’s insistence that regulation begins where the law ends is an unsatisfactory starting-point for us. This assumption would also suggests that regulation is unavailable in any case where all parties are not united by ‘technical norms’ which suppose a common interest; this would effectively rule out behavioural regulation and severely limit the scope of professional regulation.

A way out of this impasse is suggested by Braithwaite’s celebrated formulation of responsive regulation. Most regulatory interventions, Braithwaite argues, should assume a ‘virtuous actor’ open to persuasion. Only if this approach fails should the regulator resort to deterrence, implicitly addressed to a non-compliant but rational actor – and only if this fails should a punitive approach be adopted, implicitly addressing an incompetent or irrational actor. Crucially, compliance at the second or third level should prompt the regulator to de-escalate the next time intervention becomes necessary. The more confrontational the intervention, the less often it should be used; hence the image of a pyramid.

Persuasive regulation – the ground level of the pyramid – is an appeal to the subject of regulation to present him- or herself as a ‘virtuous actor’. The assumption is that the regulator and the subject of regulation have a shared interest in recognising each other – and being recognised – as socially responsible. This interest may not be uppermost in the mind of the subject of regulation – hence the possibility of escalating to deterrence – but it’s worth a try. “The most irresponsible of us has a socially responsible self. Responsive regulation is a strategy for persuading the worst of us to put our best self forward.” (Braithwaite 2002: 21).

If the scope of Pashukanis’s ‘unity of purpose’ is broadened in this way, we can see how the scope of professional regulation can be broadened in turn. Individuals do not need to be united by the mechanical interdependence of their working roles: they may be united by the culture of a particular profession or by more nebulous commitments such as the ‘public service’ ethos. The purpose which unites may even be supplied by statutory obligations (such as those imposed by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 or the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000), at least once these have had time to become acculturated. All that is needed is a sense of what makes up the virtuous professional self: the list of things that people like us do and don’t do.

I seem to have proved that just and effective professional regulation is at least theoretically possible. Have I also rescued behavioural regulation? Not entirely. If a regulatory approach is genuine, I would argue – if it is more than an alternative label for administrative control – it must be founded on common interest; this in turn will mean that the ground level of Braithwaite’s pyramid is present. If the interest motivating compliance is truly shared, in other words, this can be demonstrated through the use of persuasion rather than deterrence – which will also be the most economical route to compliance. If the regulatory approach begins with deterrence and escalates from there, the suspicion must be that the interests of the subjects of regulation are simply being overridden: in other words, that regulation has illegitimately substituted for the legal processes which should adjudicate the conflict of interests – even between the state’s interests and those of an individual citizen. In the case of ASB legislation, there is some evidence of genuine attempts to appeal to ‘virtuous selves’, notably through the use of acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs) as a precursor and alternative to ASBOs. However, there is plentiful evidence of a very different approach, deriving from the overtly divisive and exclusive ‘broken windows’ agenda. This approach tends to replace agreement between professionals and young people with agreement among professionals on how to deal with young people, who are seen as a problem rather than as individuals with interests of their own.

In the case of control orders, the situation is even worse. We are dealing here, after all, with people suspected of political offences – offences against the state. In the case of non-political offences, a habitual offender may have a socially responsible ‘best self’ to put forward, and may be motivated by gaining official recognition for this self-image: the literature on desistance tells us that this is a common profile among successful desisters in particular. By contrast, a suspected terrorist (assuming for the moment that he or she has been correctly identified) will be a committed opponent of the British state: someone who not only feels a deep-seated hostility to the state detaining him or her, but considers that hostility as virtuous rather than shameful. The possibility of mutual recognition between such a suspect and the authority regulating his or her behaviour is essentially non existent. This suggests that the regulatory approach in this case is illegitimate – or at least, that it is not regulation so much as the extra-legal use of state power.

In short, I follow Pashukanis in arguing that regulation tends to remove the matters regulated from the sphere of litigation and resolve them through administrative means. For this reason, regulation must be based on the recognition of a common interest, shared between the regulator and those regulated; this recognition can best be asserted and negotiated at the level of persuasive interaction, which is also the least costly and least coercive form of regulatory intervention. In the absence of such a common interest, regulation will be either ineffectual in its persuasion or unjust in its coercion. While these considerations apply to professional regulation, they apply with particular force to behavioural regulation. Although just and effective behavioural regulation is not impossible, the two most prominent current examples – the ASBO and the control order – are badly flawed, the control order in particular.

References

Braithwaite, J. (2002), “Rewards and regulation”, Journal of Law and Society 29: 1
Macdonald, S. (2007), “ASBOs and Control Orders: Two Recurring Themes, Two Apparent Contradictions”, Parliamentary Affairs Advance Access, published July 27
Pashukanis, E. (2001; originally published 1924), The general theory of law and Marxism, New Brunswick: Transaction

In the hot sun

Obsolete has an excellent, if inevitably depressing, analysis of the latest from Louise Casey. I was particularly struck by one line in particular: apparently Casey thinks it’s important

to get the public more engaged in tackling crime and to stop the erosion of community spirit.

Oh-oh – Broken Windows alert. Criminologists have spent years of their lives trying to make sense of this stuff – what ‘community spirit’ is, how you can tell whether it’s eroded or not and what the actual causal connection is between community spirit and the level of crime. By and large, they haven’t had much success. And, if you look at the original article and subsequent papers by the main proponents of this stuff – Bill Bratton as well as Kelling and Wilson in the US, Norman Dennis and Ray Mallon over here – that’s not surprising: the parts about how it’s actually supposed to work are quite insultingly vague. In point of fact, the original article is only incidentally about crime; it’s about policing, but policing in the service of a certain kind of social order. The focus isn’t crime prevention, in other words, so much as the prevention of disorder as an end in itself – an emphasis which I think you can find in a lot of subsequent ‘communitarian’ work on crime prevention, including the much more sophisticated work of people like Martin Innes.

The worst of it is that, at least in its cruder forms, this model is more or less untestable. Which, in turn, makes it more or less impossible to disprove: you can always look around you and see disorder, fear of crime and a lack of community spirit. So it never dies – at least, not for as long as there are journalists and politicians willing to keep it fresh.

I’ll leave detailed comment on Casey’s report to Obsolete, at least until I’ve had a chance to read the thing. For now I’ll just comment on one point from the report, which has been widely publicised: the proposal to make community service more punitive, by calling it ‘Community Payback’ and making the people doing it wear high-visibility jackets. Obsolete points out that, for better or worse, both of these proposals are already in place in some parts of the country, and comments: it doesn’t seem to have altered the impression that it’s a soft option, possibly because that’s what the popular press always refers to it as.

I’d go further: I think being ‘not punitive enough’ is widely seen as part of the definition of community service, essentially by virtue of it not being prison. That being the case, making it more visible is likely to set up a feedback loop which could make matters much worse. If you see a bunch of blokes weeding a verge or picking up litter, and not obviously having a really horrible time of it – they might be chatting among themselves, they might even be stopping for a fag – you’re not going to think I spy Evil Criminals Getting Punished! You might even think I spy Evil Criminals Having A Jolly Nice Time! – obviously ignoring the fact that the chat or the fag break came in the middle of several hours of menial labour, at the end of which they’d have no money and just as many bills to pay. But we can’t have that, think Casey and her ilk, so clearly community service will need to be made ‘tougher’ – keep ‘em at it every minute of the day, no breaks, no talking…

But, at least in the last couple of centuries, sentencing has never been about punishment and nothing but. More to the point, custodial and community-based sentences have never been designed on the basis of making the convict’s life a misery every minute of the day. For a set period, your time is forfeit – your life is not your own; that is the punishment. The logic of Casey’s position is to, literally, scapegoat people on community sentences – turn them into a kind of all-purpose scratching-post for people to let out their hatred and fear of ‘criminals’ (which is a big subject in itself, and certainly doesn’t seem to have much to do with the level of crime). Petrol’s up again… more dead in Afghanistan… another stabbing down the road… guy in an orange jumpsuit and a tag cutting the verge, looks really miserable about it, well serve you bloody well right pal! As a way of treating actual flesh-and-blood offenders – and offenders who, by definition, won’t be guilty of anything very serious – it leaves just about everything to be desired.

All those numbers

I like a good fallacy; I managed to get the Base Rate Fallacy, the Hawthorne Effect and Goodhart’s Law into one lecture I gave recently. So I was intrigued to run across this passage in Jock Young’s 2004 essay “Voodoo Criminology and the numbers game” (you can find a draft in pdf form here):

Legions of theorists from Robert K Merton through to James Q Wilson have committed Giffen’s paradox: expressing their doubts about the accuracy of the data and then proceeding to use the crime figures with seeming abandon, particularly in recent years when the advent of sophisticated statistical analysis is, somehow, seen to grant permission to skate over the thin ice of insubstantiality.

I like a good fallacy, but paradoxes are even better. So, tell me more about Giffen’s paradox:

Just as with Giffen’s paradox, where the weakness of the statistics is plain to the researchers yet they continue to force-feed inadequate data into their personal computers

Try as I might, I wasn’t seeing the paradox there. A footnote referenced

Giffen, P. (1965), ‘Rates of Crime and Delinquency’ in W. McGrath (ed.), Crime Treatment in Canada

I didn’t have W. McGrath (ed.), Crime Treatment in Canada by me at the time, so I did the next best thing and Googled. I rapidly discovered that Giffen’s paradox is also known as the Giffen paradox, that it’s associated with Giffen goods, and that it’s got nothing to do with Giffen, P. (1965):

Proposed by Scottish economist Sir Robert Giffen (1837-1910) from his observations of the purchasing habits of the Victorian poor, the Giffen paradox states that demand for a commodity increases as its price rises.

Raise the price of bread when there are people on the poverty line – ignoring for the moment the fact that this makes you the rough moral equivalent of Mengele – and those people will buy more bread, to substitute for the meat they’re no longer able to afford. It’s slightly reassuring to note that, notwithstanding Sir Robert’s observations of the Victorian poor, economists have subsequently questioned whether the Giffen paradox has ever actually been observed.

But none of this cast much light on those researchers force-feeding their personal computers with inadequate data. Eventually I tracked down W. McGrath (ed.), Crime Treatment in Canada. It turns out that the less famous Giffen did in fact describe the willingness of researchers to rely on statistics, after having registered caveats about their quality, as a paradox (albeit “one of the less important paradoxes of modern times”). I still can’t see that this rises to the level of paradox: surely being upfront about the quality of the data you’re processing is what a statistical analyst should do. If initial reservations don’t carry through into the conclusion that’s another matter – but that’s not a paradox, that’s just misrepresentation.

Paradoxical or not, Giffen’s observation accords with Young’s argument in the paper, which is that criminologists, among other social scientists, place far too much trust in statistical analysis: statistics are only as good as the methods used to produce them, methods which in many cases predictably generate gaps and errors.

It’s a good argument but not a very new or surprising one (perhaps it was newer in 1965). Moreover, Young pushes it in some odd directions. The paper reminded me of Robert Martinson’s 1974 study of rehabilitation programmes, “What Works?” – or rather, of how that paper was received. Martinson demonstrated that no study had conclusively shown any form of rehabilitation to work consistently, and that very few studies of rehabilitation showed any clear result; his paper was seized on by advocates of imprisonment and invoked as proof that nothing worked. This was unjustified on two levels. Firstly, while Martinson’s negatives would justify scepticism about a one-size-fits-all rehabilitation panacea, the detail of his research did suggest that some things worked for some people in some settings. Subsequent research – some of it by Martinson himself – bore out this suggestion, showing reasonably clear evidence that tailored, flexible and multiple interventions can actually do some good. Secondly, if Martinson was sceptical about rehabilitation, he wasn’t any less sceptical about imprisonment: his conclusion was that ex-offenders could be left alone, not that they should be kept locked up (“if we can’t do more for (and to) offenders, at least we can safely do less”). For Martinson, rehabilitation couldn’t cut crime by reforming bad people, because crime wasn’t caused by bad people in the first place. Sadly, the first part of this message was heard much more clearly than the second.

Like Martinson, Young is able to present a whole series of statistical analyses which seem obviously, intuitively wrong. However, what his examples suggest is that statistics from different sources require different types and levels of wariness: some are dependably more trustworthy than others, and some of the less trustworthy are untrustworthy in knowably different ways. But rather than deal individually with the different types of scepticism, levels of scepticism and reasons for scepticism which different analyses provoke, Young effectively concludes that nothing works, or very little:

Am I suggesting an open season on numbers? Not quite: there are … numbers which are indispensable to sociological analysis. Figures of infant mortality, age, marriage and common economic indicators are cases in point, as are, for example, numbers of police, imprisonment rates and homicide incidences in criminology. Others such as income or ethnicity are of great utility but must be used with caution. There are things in the social landscape which are distinct, definite and measurable; there are many others that are blurred because we do not know them – some because we are unlikely ever to know them, others, more importantly, because it is their nature to be blurred. … There are very many cases where statistical testing is inappropriate because the data is technically weak – it will simply not bear the weight of such analysis. There are many other instances where the data is blurred and contested and where such testing is simply wrong.

(In passing, that’s a curious set of solid, trustworthy numbers to save from the wreckage – it’s hard to think of an indicator more bureaucratically produced, socially constructed and culture-bound than “infant mortality”, unless perhaps it’s “marriage”.)

I’ve spent some time designing a system for cataloguing drug, alcohol and tobacco statistics – an area where practically all the data we have is constructed using “blurred and contested” concepts – so I sympathise with Young’s stance here, up to a point. Police drug seizure records, British Crime Survey drug use figures and National Treatment Agency drug treatment statistics are produced in different ways and tell us about different things, even when they appear to be talking about the same thing. (In my experience, people who run archives know about this already and find it interesting, people who use the statistics take it for granted, and IT people don’t know about it and want to fix it.) But: such testing is simply wrong? (Beware the persuasive adverb – try re-reading those last two sentences with the word ‘simply’ taken out.) We know how many people answered ‘yes’ to a question with a certain form of words; we know how many of the same people answered ‘yes’ to a different question; and we know the age distribution of these people. I can’t see that it would be wrong to cross-tabulate question one against question two, or to calculate the mean age of one sub-sample or the other. Granted, it would be wrong to present findings about the group which answered Yes to a question concerning activity X as if they were findings about the group who take part in activity X – but that’s just to say that it’s wrong to misrepresent your findings. Young’s broader sceptical claim – that figures constructed using contested concepts should not or cannot be analysed mathematically – seems… well, wrong.

Young then repeats the second of the errors of Martinson’s audience: if none of that works, then we can stick with what we know. In this case that means criminology reconceived as cultural ethnography: “a theoretical position which can enter in to the real world of existential joy, fear, false certainty and doubt, which can seek to understand the subcultural projects of people in a world riven with inequalities of wealth and uncertainties of identity”. Fair enough – who’d want a theoretical position which couldn’t enter in to the real world? But the question to ask about creeds is not what’s in them but what they leave out. Here, the invocation of culture seems to presage the abandonment not only of statistical analysis but of materialism.

The usual procedure … is to take the demographics and other factors which correlate with crime in the past and attempt to explain the present or predict the future levels of crime in terms of changes in these variables. The problem here is that people (and young people in particular) might well change independently of these variables. For in the last analysis the factors do not add up and the social scientists begin to have to admit the ghost in the machine.

People … might well change independently of these variables – how? In ways which don’t find any expression in phenomena that might be measured (apart from a drop in crime)? It seems more plausible to say that, while people do freely choose ways to live their lives, they do not do so in circumstances of their own choosing – and that those choices in turn have material effects which create constraints as well as opportunities, for themselves and for others. To put it another way, if the people you’re studying change independently of your variables, perhaps you haven’t got the right variables. Young’s known as a realist, which is one way of being a materialist these days; but the version of criminology he’s proposing here seems, when push comes to shove, to be non- or even anti-materialist (“the ghost in the machine”). That’s an awfully big leap to make, and I don’t think it can be justified by pointing out that some statisticians lie.

What arguments based on statistics need – and crime statistics are certainly no exception – is scepticism, but patient and attentive scepticism: it’s not a question of declaring that statistics don’t tell us anything, but of working out precisely what particular uses of statistics don’t tell us. A case in point is this story in last Friday’s Guardian:

An 8% rise in robberies and an 11% increase in vandalism yesterday marred the latest quarterly crime figures, which showed an overall fall of 2% across all offences in England and Wales.

The rise in street crime was accompanied by British Crime Survey indicators showing that public anxiety about teenagers on the streets, noisy neighbours, drug dealing, drunkenness and rowdiness has continued to increase despite the government’s repeated campaigns against antisocial behaviour. … But police recorded crime figures for the final three months of 2006 compared with 12 months earlier showed that violent crime generally was down by 1%, including a 16% fall in gun crime and an 11% fall in sex offences.

The more authoritative British Crime Survey, which asks 40,000 people about their experience of crime each year, reported a broadly stable crime rate, including violent crime, during 2006. … The 11% increase in vandalism recorded by the BCS and a 2% rise in criminal damage cases on the police figures underlined the increase in public anxiety on five out of seven indicators of antisocial behaviour.

Confused? You should be. Here it is again:

  Police BCS
All crime down 2% stable (up 1%*)
Violent crime down 1% stable
Robbery up 8% stable (down 1%*)
Vandalism up 2% up 11%

* Figures in italics are from the BCS but weren’t in the Guardian story.

Earlier on in this post I made a passing reference to statistical data being bureaucratically produced, socially constructed and culture-bound. Here’s an example of what that means in practice. Police crime figures are a by-product of the activities of the police in dealing with crime, and as such are responsive to changes in the pattern of those activities: put a lot more police resources into dealing with offence X, or change police procedure so that offences of type X are less likely to go by unrecorded, and the crime rate for offence X will appear to go up (see also cottaging). Survey data, on the other hand, is produced by asking people questions; as such, it’s responsive to variations in the type of people who answer questions and to variations in those people’s memory and mood, not to mention variations in the wording of the questions, the structure of the questionnaire, the ways in which answers are coded up and so on. The two sets of indicators are associated with different sets of extraneous influences; if they both show an increase, the chances are that they’ve both been affected by the same influence. The influence in question may be a single big extraneous factor which affects both sets of figures – for example, a massively-publicised crackdown on particular criminal offences will give them higher priority both in police activities and in the public consciousness. But it may be a genuine increase in the thing being measured – and, more to the point, the chances of it being a genuine increase are much higher than if only one indicator shows an increase.

In this case, the police have robberies increasing by 8%; the BCS has theft from the person dropping by 1%. That’s an odd discrepancy, and suggests that something extraneous is involved in the police figure; it’s not clear what that might be, though. Vandalism, on the other hand, goes up by 2% if you use police figures but by all of 11% if you use the BCS. Again, this discrepancy suggests that something other than an 11% rise in the actual incidence of vandalism might be involved, and in this case the story suggests what this might be:

British Crime Survey indicators showing that public anxiety about teenagers on the streets, noisy neighbours, drug dealing, drunkenness and rowdiness has continued to increase despite the government’s repeated campaigns against antisocial behaviour

Presumably the government’s repeated campaigns against antisocial behaviour have raised the profile of anti-social behaviour as an issue. Perhaps this has made it more likely that people will feel that behaviour of this type is something to be anxious about, and that incidents of vandalism will be talked about and remembered for weeks or months afterwards (the BCS asks about incidents in the past twelve months).

That’s just one possible explanation: the meaning of figures like these is all in the interpretation, and the interpretation is up to the interpreter. The more important point is that there are things that these figures will and won’t allow you to do. You can say that police figures, unlike the BCS, are a conservative but reliable record of things that have actually happened, and that robbery has gone up by 8% and criminal damage by 2%. You can say that victim surveys, unlike police figures, are an inclusive and valid record of things that people have actually experienced, and that vandalism has gone up by 11% while robbery has gone down by 1%. What you can’t do is refer to An 8% rise in robberies and an 11% increase in vandalism - there is no way that the data can give you those two figures.

But that’s not a paradox or even a fallacy – it’s just misuse of statistics.

Better call up the cops

My academic background is in sociology, sort of – you could also call it politics, or contemporary history, or European studies. One thing it wasn’t is criminology. So I have a lot of sympathy with the academics cited here, lamenting the decline of sociology at the expense of criminology. (I met one of them – William Outhwaite – while I was doing my doctorate. I wouldn’t say his example inspired my choice of career, but it certainly reassured me that I was on the right lines.)

Needless to say, they find broader social explanations for what’s happening:

Nick Currie, a criminology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), says he and his colleagues can confirm a shift in applications towards criminology. “Crime informs every aspect of public policy. There isn’t a car park or a housing estate designed now without taking account of criminal behaviour,” he explains.

“I think the growth of sociology was fuelled by the first wave of working-class people who started coming into universities and polytechnics in the 60s and 70s. Sociology was their subject; it was about them. That has changed. I don’t think students now are even thinking about what they really want to study; it is much more [about] what will make me employable.”

Despite being head of Oxford University’s centre for criminology, Dr Ian Loader is not in favour of the shift. “I started to think, when I worked at Keele, that criminology is replacing sociology as a core undergraduate subject,” he says. “But I don’t think criminology is a discipline. It is a field of study, but it is better for someone to come to it as a graduate, not for a first degree. But you try telling that to vice-chancellors. Universities are getting much more entrepreneurial, and crime attracts students.”

I teach Criminology students these days (sorry, William), but I think there’s a lot in this. That said, I think it’s arguable that the rise of criminology has responded to real social and political changes, which need to be studied and understood. As Nick Currie says, at government level crime informs every aspect of public policy – and we need to keep an informed eye on what that means in practice.

Take Blair’s celebrated soundbite about being tough on, well, you know. Here’s Ross McKibbin from the last LRB:

‘Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime.’ This was an entirely reasonable formula for a party that felt it was on the back foot over crime but knew that crime is largely generated by social deprivation. But policy has in practice been increasingly tough only on crime.

And here’s a letter I wrote in response (they haven’t printed it, the blighters):

Ross McKibbin repeats the common misconception that New Labour has been “tough only on crime”, neglecting the causes of crime. It’s true that Blair, like Thatcher and Major before him, does not believe that governments can or should try to prevent crime by promoting social justice. But on the broader question of whether government has any part to play in preventing crime, this government has departed radically from its Conservative predecessors. A range of theories about the causes of crime has been put forward – and acted on. Crime may be caused by drugs, with addicts stealing to fund their habit; if so, mandatory drug treatment will help prevent crime. Crime may be caused by yobs driving respectable citizens off the streets, making it easier for criminals to operate: if so, dealing with anti-social behaviour will help prevent crime. Crime may be caused by the incorrigible lawlessness of a small minority: if so, mandatory parenting classes will help prevent crime, by enabling parents to rein in disruptive children before they become delinquent adults.

Drug treatment and testing orders, parenting orders, anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs): these are all New Labour innovations, targeting behaviour which is believed to lead to offending rather than waiting for offences to be committed. If we believe, with McKibbin, that “most crime is generated by social deprivation”, we may dismiss this approach as populist tinkering, but this would be to underestimate its coherence – and its impact. Over 3,000 ASBOs were issued in 2004 and 4,000 in 2005, prohibiting individuals from specified non-criminal activities (disorderly behaviour, drinking in public, entering specific areas…). The maximum penalty for breaching an ASBO – which, studies suggest, happens about half of the time – is a five-year prison sentence. This is getting “tough on the causes of crime” with a vengeance.

This isn’t what McKibbin would recognise as thinking about the causes of crime, but neither is it the know-nothing lock-‘em-up approach of the Tories. Or rather, the Howard-era Tories – after ten years of New Labour, I expect Cameron will take an equally wide-ranging approach. I did a Web search the other day for the classic Daily Mailism “the cause of crime is criminals”; I found it on the UKIP Web site.

One footnote. The public image of the ASBO had already changed by the time it was introduced – it was originally intended as a measure to deal with “neighbours from hell” and serial intimidators, not the badly-behaved kids it’s now associated with. It looks as if a second shift has taken place in the last few years. The 2002 Police Reform Act introduced the “ASBO on conviction” or “criminal ASBO”, imposed to accompany or follow a penal sentence. Apparently 70% of ASBOs imposed between 2003 and 2005 were “criminal ASBOs”. Interesting. I don’t know what it means, but it’s interesting.

Then don’t think twice

I haven’t got much of a comments policy. Any spam that makes it through the filters will be deleted, that’s a given. Apart from that, there are a few types of comment that I don’t like – people commenting for the sake of plugging their own blogs (human spam); anonymous comments; ad hominem attacks; anonymous ad hominem attacks – but nothing I could define tightly enough to put in a spelt-out Acceptable Comments Policy.

I came to blogging after several years on Usenet, and in particular on a newsgroup (alt.folklore.urban) which had very high informal standards for the content of posts and very low standards of civility and politesse. I believe the two were connected. It was understood on a.f.u, in its heyday, that a badly-written post could and would be torn line from line, with contempt, with wit and quite often with swearwords. It was a spectator sport, often undertaken for fun and without any real anger; most of the time the group’s sympathies would be entirely with the poster doing the shredding, not the one whose post had been shredded. It was also understood that this wasn’t personal: we might have called you an idiot on the basis of posting a stupid and ill-informed argument, but that should just encourage you to come back and try again. (I was particularly scrupulous about this myself, and used to tell people that they were being an idiot.) Most of the time it seemed to work: most people either shaped up or shipped out, although a few would always insist on hanging around and complaining. Either way, they rapidly gained a name for themselves, which was always a big part of being on Usenet.

With that experience behind me, it’s hard to get too worked up about anonymity – or rather, it’s hard to define anonymity. If an anonymous commenter signs off with his or her given name, and I recognise them as someone who’s in my phone book, is that really anonymous? Conversely, if a commenter with a screen name gives a valid URI and a valid email address, none of which give any clue to his or her real-world identity, is that not anonymous? What about the regular commenter with a consistent screen name – if one block of text can be linked to the author of several others, how much does it matter that nobody knows what their real name is? Deep waters.

More to the point, my a.f.u experience means that I find it hard to endorse any kind of blanket condemnation of ad hominem attacks, let alone ‘bad language’ or ‘rudeness’. Writing out of personal spite and contempt is bad (“don’t drive angry“). Writing to offend is bad; writing to provoke is bad; writing to arouse spite and contempt in other people is bad. But I don’t see that you need to use swearing or incivility to do any of those things – and I don’t see that swearing or incivility is a good indicator that you are doing any of those things. I’ve been deeply offended and angered by blog posts and blog comments before now, but I don’t remember that any of the offending material was rude.

Do I deplore ad hominem attacks? Yes, generally – but I also recognise that some attacks take passive-aggressive form, presenting the attacker as a well-meaning observer or a wronged victim who only wants justice. Scrupulously polite and civil language may convey the most hurtful sentiments. On the other hand, what can look like attacking language may be robust or even playful criticism. That said, I’m not so naive as to think that everyone who gives offence is just being playful or that everyone who takes offence is over-reacting. Setting out to cause offence and being offensive certainly overlap – but the first doesn’t imply the second, and vice versa. If we imposed a rule of universal politeness, it might drive personal attacks underground – or between the lines – but it would do nothing to stop them; those who want to would find a way. (And, at some time or other, we all want to.)

So, do I delete ad hominem attacks, or abuse, or anonymous trolling? No, not most of the time. And yes, sometimes – although this doesn’t necessarily correlate with the overt level of offensiveness. Essentially my comments policy is Tom‘s:

Please stay on-topic, informative and polite. I reserve the right to remove comments for whatever vague capricious reasons seem reasonable at the time.

You can argue with that if you want to – you might change my mind, or you might not. Either way, I won’t delete your comments. Probably.

The sound of the keys as they clink

Back here, I wrote:

my children are far closer to being ‘colour-blind’ than I’ll ever be. The other day my son got picked on in the swimming pool; we asked him to describe the kids who did it, and when we asked him whether they had brown skin he said “yes, but why do you ask?” That told us.

What I didn’t mention, probably because it hadn’t happened yet, was the sequel: a note from the police, passed on through the school, to the effect that they’d be interested to take a statement from my son, particularly given that there was a possible racist motive. (My son said he just wanted to forget about the whole thing, so we let it drop.)

So there’s one obvious reason to be sceptical about Manchester councillor Eddy Newman’s letter to Saturday’s Graun:

The study to which you refer suggests that Asbos are used disproportionately against ethnic-minority groups. In Manchester, by contrast, about one in 10 of Asbos include conditions banning racist abuse, threats or harassment. In this way Asbos can be used to combat racism and promote community cohesion.

The two sets of ASBOs – “used disproportionately against ethnic-minority groups” and “include conditions banning racist abuse” – aren’t mutually exclusive. But even if they were, there’s an even more obvious reason for scepticism: put simply, the fact that 10% of ASBOs have anti-racist strings attached says nothing about the other 90%. But the numbers are less important than the mood music. Let’s not worry about how ASBOs have been used – think about all the good things they can be used for! Never mind the evidence, just think of all the bad people out there – and trust us to deal with them.

Over the weekend I was also gobsmacked (like Jamie) by Nick Cohen’s latest:

For the first time in British history, there are asylum seekers who could attack the country which gave them sanctuary. I don’t think people realise how unparallelled this change is.

For the first time in British history, by gum. Never before have murderous foreigners lurked among us, plotting anarchy and destruction under cover of our fabled British hospitality. The Fenians in Victorian England don’t count, obviously – nor do the revolutionary exiles who converged on England from across Europe and beyond in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Conrad thought they were pretty threatening – The Secret Agent even has a suicide bomber as one of its central characters – but he was obviously exaggerating. There was a great deal of alarm about German exiles in Britain when the Great War broke out, but all that was just hysteria, obviously. Same with the Russian revolutionary exiles, around the same time. Sidney Street? A storm in a teacup. Things got a bit more lively in the late 1930s, mind you:

In September 1939 there were a total of 71,600 registered enemy aliens in Britain. On the outbreak of the Second World War the police arrested a large number of Germans living in Britain. The government feared that these people might be Nazi spies pretending to be refugees. They were interned and held in various camps all over Britain. Like other refugees they were eventually appeared before tribunals which classified them into three different groups. ‘A’ class aliens were interned, whereas ‘B’ class aliens were allowed to leave the camps but had certain restrictions placed upon their movements. The vast majority of refugees were identified as ‘C’ class aliens and were allowed to go free. When Benito Mussolini declared war on the Allies on 10th May 1940, Italians living in Britain were also interned. This included 4,000 people with less than twenty years’ residence in Britain.

But still, there’s no comparison: For the first time in British history, there are asylum seekers who could attack the country which gave them sanctuary. Or if it’s not quite the first time in history, well, never mind. Just think about all the bad people out there, and trust us to deal with them.

I used to read Nick Cohen regularly; I used to think of Eddy Newman as a reliable voice of the municipal Left (he’s a solid Old Labour councillor from way back, one of a very few Manchester councillors to have built a personal reputation in the Stringer period and hung on to it). These are strange times for the Left – it’s easy to forget just how strange.

Update 7/11

As Andrew points out in comments, Nick is a troubled man:

When, at the age of 13, he found out that his kind and thoughtful English teacher voted Conservative, he nearly fell off his chair: ‘To be good, you had to be on the Left.’ Today he’s no less confused.

I’ll say he is.

Why is it that apologies for a militant Islam that stands for everything the liberal-Left is against come from a section of the Left? After the American and British wars in Bosnia and Kosovo against Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansers, why were men and women of the Left denying the existence of Serb concentration camps? Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal-Left, but not, for instance, China, the Sudan, Zimbabwe or North Korea? Why can’t those who say they support the Palestinian cause tell you what type of Palestine they would like to see? After the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington why were you as likely to read that a sinister conspiracy of Jews controlled American or British foreign policy in a liberal literary journal as in a neo-Nazi rag?

I can actually sympathise with parts of this; back in the early 1990s those of us who thought the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was worth defending against armed Serb irredentism seemed to be in a very small minority on the Left. Seeing sizeable swathes of the Left apparently signing up for the Genocidal Bastard Fan Club (and no, the RCP wasn’t its only chapter by any means) isn’t an experience you forget.

But if I’m not with Neil Clark, I’m not with Nick either. This synopsis is sloppily written even by the standards of its kind (I don’t recall any “American and British war” in Bosnia, apart from anything else), but as far as I can tell Nick’s main concern isn’t that the Left has chosen some dodgy causes lately. He’s not even harping on the Left’s wilful blindness to the historically unprecedented menace of the lurking foreign mad bomber. For whatever reason, the point Nick really seems to want to make is that supporting the Palestinian cause is wrong. Or rather, it may be right, but only if you a) support several other causes as well b) oppose the politicians Palestinians actually elect and c) oppose criticism of Israel. (Like Andrew, I really hope that last line isn’t a reference to Mearsheimer and Walt. I’m tempted to dismiss the idea out of hand – you’d have to be wearing a very strong prescription indeed to see a ‘sinister conspiracy of Jews’ in M&W’s LRB piece, let alone to imagine that it could appear in a ‘neo-Nazi rag’ – but the reference to ‘a liberal literary journal’ is disquieting.)

A Left critique of the Gleichschaltung of the ‘anti-imperialists’ might have been useful and telling; unfortunately it looks as if Nick has found another cause to be gleichgeschaltet by. These are, as I was saying, strange times for the Left. As Victor Serge never wrote:

- What’s to be done if it’s midnight in the century?
- What, already?

Snap into position

Here are three scenarios; see if you can spot the differences between them.

More people were found guilty of car theft in the first nine months of 2005 than in the whole of 2004.

One of four things has happened. The police and the courts are functioning as before but there’s more car theft going on; the police are sending more suspects to court, perhaps because of a crackdown on this type of offence; the courts are processing cases faster; or the courts are returning proportionately more guilty verdicts. The first of these obviously isn’t good news. The third (more efficient courts) is good; the second and fourth (more arrests, more convictions) may be good news or may not be. Second scenario:

More people were cautioned by police for suspected car theft in the first nine months of 2005 than in the whole of 2004.

Now we’re down to two possibilities: either there are more car thieves or the police are working harder on nailing them. But this second possibility is not necessarily a good thing, and doesn’t necessarily mean that justice is being done more effectively: remember the case of the 1989 gross indecency figures (misrepresented by Nick Cohen as the product of a passing obsession with public toilets in Slough). Cue the third scenario:

More people were cautioned by police for being “nasty little toerags who we can’t actually pin anything on at this stage” in the first nine months of 2005 than in the whole of 2004.

The point here is that figures for police activity don’t record crime; what they record is police activity, which doesn’t necessarily track anything but itself. Tell the police to arrest more people and arrests will go up. Tell the police to arrest people for looking at them a bit funny, and there will be a dramatic rise in the level of looking-at-police-a-bit-funny offences – although this will be accompanied, encouragingly, by a highly effective police crackdown on the offence.

All right, let’s be serious. Here’s what’s actually happening:

Between January and September last year judges used 2,679 Asbos, compared with 2,660 during the whole of 2004. [This also compares with 1,043 in 2003 and 976 between April 1999, when the ASBO was introduced, and the end of 2002.]Home Office minister Hazel Blears said: “Antisocial behaviour can be a harrowing experience that no one should have to endure. Today’s statistics show that local authorities, the police and the courts are not hesitating to use Asbos to clamp down on the problem. I am extremely encouraged that they continue to be used.”

The first sentence of Blears’ statement is true, of course, although ‘can be’ is the operative phrase: ‘anti-social behaviour’ is defined, in law, as behaving ‘in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household’, which not only gives thin-skinned neighbours a limitless licence to be offended but gives the police a licence to take offence on their behalf (caused or was likely to cause). In practice ‘anti-social behaviour’ is pretty much whatever you want it to be (actual criminal offences apart). As Bev Hughes said in 2003,

It can mean very different things from one place to the next. In one area it’s young people causing problems on the street, in another it’s noisy neighbours or abandoned cars. In one town centre it’s street drinking and begging, in another it’s prostitution.

If you think it’s anti-social, in other words, then it probably is.

The second sentence of Blears’ statement is also true, but only up to the word ‘Asbos’. There is no necessary connection between a rise in the imposition of ASBOs and any consistent or identifiable pattern of behaviour. Certainly the police are not hesitating to request ASBOs, nor are magistrates’ courts hesitating to grant them; beyond that, it’s literally impossible to say what’s going on. More offensive behaviour? A progressive crackdown on existing levels of offensive behaviour? A progressive and expanding crackdown on ever less extreme examples of offensive behaviour? Or a crackdown on whatever and whoever police officers might feel like cracking down on, secure in the knowledge that the Home Office is right behind them? It could be any of these; it’s probably a combination of all of them.

The danger here isn’t just that the government endorses police harassment, as with ‘sus’ under Thatcher. An ASBO is a court order to refrain from certain, lawful, patterns of behaviour – which may include going to certain places or being seen with certain people, as well as behaviours such as wearing gloves or being a passenger in a car. The order may have a fixed term or run indefinitely; while it’s in force, violating the order is a criminal offence. Since obtaining a court order does not require a full trial, courtroom standards of proof do not obtain in an ASBO hearing and hearsay evidence is admissible. In other words, someone who is accused of behaving in ways which might upset somebody – someone who has not been accused of any crime, let alone convicted – can be prevented by law from carrying out an arbitrary range of other non-criminal actions, at any time in future; if they do, they can be jailed. The danger here is that policing turns into long-term social control. Blears again:

“Over the past 12 months we have seen enthusiastic take-up of Asbos, which sends out a clear message to those people who persist in this behaviour that action will be taken against them.”

Bad people! You bad people out there, stop it now! No more badness!

There’s something very New Labour about the lightness of all this. (So, what we need is something that is free, universally popular and that we can roll out instantly…) A consistent authoritarian conservative – a Tory of the old school, say – would know very well what anti-social behaviour was and how you dealt with it: you define it, you make laws against it, you put more bobbies on the beat and you arrest the anti-social yobs and hooligans who are causing the trouble. New Labour have always had the problem that, while they wanted to get the working-class law-and-order vote, it wasn’t really their thing – they didn’t really know those people, and when push came to shove they didn’t much care about them. So how do we define anti-social behaviour? Then the brainwave: We don’t. They’re worried about it, so we let them define it. We give them the tools to combat it, and how they do it is up to them. It’s democratic, it’s decentralised, it’s empowering – and the tabloids will love it!

The trouble with this approach to policy-making is that it’s always liable to grow beyond the government’s control: it’s easier to start a snowball of public outrage than stop it. Having said that, the recent rash of news stories about people getting Fixed Penalty Notices (and that’s another story) for offences such as wearing an offensive shirt, using the word ‘fuck’ in conversation or putting an envelope in a litter bin suggest that this trend may be soon exhaust the available supply of natural outrage and grind to a halt. I wonder what they’ll think of next?

Never argue with a rozzer

In all the recent blogging around the ‘Respect Agenda’ (Justin and TP have been particularly good), one point that hasn’t been made is that all this is nothing new. Or rather, it’s nothing new to New Labour. This government has passed huge amounts of law-and-order legislation, much of which has been devoted to taking responsibilities away from the courts and giving them to the police. (And to Community Support Officers, but that’s another story.) Here are some of the highlights.

When this government came in, there was a fairly clear distinctions between charge, arrest and caution. A suspect could be charged, with a view to subsequently issuing a court summons; this was the standard procedure for crimes attracting a penalty of less than five years’ imprisonment at the first offence. In some situations a suspected offender could be arrested pending prosecution: this option was available for more serious crimes and for the prevention of a breach of the peace, as well as for the purpose of enabling a summons to be served (for instance, if a suspect attempted to abscond or refused to supply a valid name and address). Finally, a suspect who was charged with and admitted an offence could be ‘let off with a caution’ in lieu of court proceedings. A simple caution is not a conviction and does not carry any penalty; it does, however, represent an admission of guilt and remains on the offender’s criminal record for five years.

Pretty much all of this has changed. Successive pieces of legislation passed since 1997 have classed a number of less serious crimes as ‘arrestable’, particularly in the area of public order; the 2003 Criminal Justice Act clarifies the increasingly arbitrary boundary between arrestable and non-arrestable offences by the simple expedient of making all offences arrestable.

Since 1998 young offenders are no longer cautioned, but given a ‘reprimand’ at a first offence and a ‘final warning’ at a subsequent offence. A warning will generally be coupled with a referral to the local Youth Offending Team (YOT), who will be charged with developing a programme of activities to address the offender’s behaviour; in some cases a reprimand will also include a YOT referral. While a YOT programme is not a criminal penalty and is not compulsory, the effect is to couple a police caution with an official sanction. This principle is followed by the recent introduction of the ‘conditional caution’ for adult offenders: a caution may be coupled with a programme of restitutive or rehabilitative activity. If the offender does not comply with the programme, a prosecution for the original offence may follow.

The 2001 Criminal Justice and Police Act introduced penalty notices for disorder (PNDs): a type of fixed penalty notice (FPN). An FPN — previously used primarily for traffic offences — is not a penalty for the offence. Rather, the recipient is served notice that he or she may be prosecuted for the offence, but that the liability can be discharged by paying a set fine. PNDs are given primarily for drunk and disorderly behaviour. A 2004 study of a pilot scheme suggested that between half and three-quarters of PND recipients were ‘new business’, i.e. individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have been cautioned, arrested or charged.

The use of ‘vanilla’ FPNs has also been extended. The 2002 Police Reform Act introduced a range of minor offences, generally associated with ‘anti-social behaviour’, for which FPNs can be issued by locally-accredited Community Support Officers as well as by police officers. The range of offences involved has subsequently expanded — under the 2002 Act and by provisions in the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act — from three to 20. Community Support Officers (who go out on the beat after six weeks’ training) have no power of arrest, but can detain a suspect until the police arrive. There has been talk of empowering CSOs to escort truanting children back to school; the power to escort adults to the local nick is probably not far behind.

ASBOs have been around since 1998. An anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) is a court order, which must be obtained from a magistrate (and may be requested by a range of agencies other than police forces – a range which looks set to expand). An ASBO is an injunction to refrain from specified activities, which can be obtained on the grounds that the offender has engaged in these activities as part of a pattern of ‘anti-social behaviour’. The criminal sanctions associated with ASBOs relate to the offence of breaching a court order, rather than to the actions involved. These actions may in themselves be entirely legal; they may not even be ‘anti-social’ if carried out in other circumstances, in other locations or by other individuals. (ASBO provisions have been used to bar individuals from riding bicycles, wearing gloves, etc.)

Then there are measures relating to property. The 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act relates to the confiscation of assets gained through crime or used for criminal purposes; it enables the courts to seize the property of suspects committed for trial in a crown court (not, necessarily, convicted offenders). There is also a provision in the act for the immediate seizure of cash which a police officer believes to be crime-related. The threshold for this type of seizure was set in the act at £10,000; it was subsequently lowered to £5,000 and is about to be brought down again to £1,000. (That’s inflation for you.) The 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act, finally, enables the police to obtain a court order closing and sealing premises which they believe to be used for drug offences (the ‘crack house’ provision). There is no requirement to prove that drug offences have taken place at the premises, or been committed by anyone using the premises. This is the provision which the government is planning to extend to cover noisy neighbours.

Some of these interventions relate to behaviour which is not in itself criminal; others broaden the range of criminal offences which are in practice sanctioned, or heighten the sanction applied (as in the case of the extension of powers of arrests). What all these measures have in common is that they erode the distinction between police intervention and penal sanction.

I don’t think there’s any grand plan behind these developments. The police forces of England and Wales are an institution, and like all institutions they would rather have more power than less. What’s extraordinary is the government under which this has happened. Back in the 1980s (hey, you young people…) scary people like Peter Bruinvels would get up at the Tory Conference and talk about giving the police the support and the resources they need – and Thatcher herself would let it be known that she thought James Anderton had it about right – but things never changed all that much. (At any rate, things never changed this much.) Perhaps this was because there was a good solid layer of permanent-government bureaucracy between the Thatcher circle and the places where laws were drafted; perhaps it was because Thatcher faced a Labour opposition. Neither condition obtains now. Or perhaps – saddest thought of all – the reason why Thatcher didn’t give the police lobby everything it wanted was simply that she had ideas of her own.

Doing the best things

So, Blair’s responded to the May 5th result by announcing his intention to move yet further Right, and backed it up with new Cabinet appointments. Which is disappointing in itself, as well as representing two fingers to all those of us who chose left-wing alternatives to Labour. Given the scale of the left-alternative diaspora and the insignificance of the swing from Labour to the Conservatives, this response also makes very little sense in terms of political rationality (as I wrote here). That said, it does have a certain ghastly predictability within the Blairoverse. Poach Tory votes and drag the Labour vote along behind: that’s how the New Labour clique work. Unfortunately for us, May 5 didn’t see them leaving quite enough of the Labour vote behind to slow down the march into Tory territory.

What’s interesting – and, I think, revealing – is how New Labour are moving right. What, after all, does the Left/Right split mean? There are a number of different ways of looking at it. Firstly and most obviously, you can map Right onto the interests of capital and Left onto those of labour. Along similar lines, unfettered capitalism and paid-for services (Right) are opposed to state intervention and tax-funded provision (Left).

Secondly, you can associate the Right with tradition: upholding inherited institutions and belief systems, rather than trusting individual judgment and taking the risk of changing things. The belief in progress, on this reckoning, is fundamentally of the Left; so are rationalism and free thinking. The opposition between nationalism (Right) and internationalism (Left) is related to this: for the Right, the fundamental nature of nationality, as an element of individual identity, outweighs its basic meaninglessness.

Thirdly, the Right can be associated with order, discipline and social control; the Left, in this perspective, stands for an all-inclusive and all-forgiving community, which avoids the pain of excluding anyone at the cost of tolerating people who breach its own values. Along similar lines, hierarchy (Right) contrasts with democracy (Left): democracy, on this view, is a solvent of necessary constraints and a gateway drug for anarchy.

New Labour’s position on the Right in the first of these three senses was well established before the election; there wasn’t anything new or surprising about Blair’s promises to cut the dole, marketise the health service and introduce compulsory private pensions (slight paraphrase). What was new was more interesting. There’s a weaselly little nod to the tradition-and-nationhood Right:

the British people are a tolerant and decent people, they did not want immigration made a divisive issue in the course of the election campaign, but they do believe there are real problems in our immigration and asylum system and they expect us to sort them out, and we will do so.

Note the slippage here: the government will sort out the problems which the British people believe to exist. The problems may be fictitious, but the belief is real – and that’s good enough to act on.

More significantly, there’s a positive lurch to the order-and-discipline Right:

though they like the fact we have got over the deference of the past, there is a disrespect that people don’t like. And whether it’s in the classroom, or on the street in town centres on a Friday or Saturday night, I want to focus on this issue. We’ve done a lot so far with anti-social orders and additional numbers of police. But I want to make this a particular priority for this government, how we bring back a proper sense of respect in our schools, in our communities, in our towns and our villages.

It’s true, New Labour have done a fair bit in this area, what with all those police (and Community Support Officers) and those “anti-social orders” (not to mention Penalty Notices for Disorder, juvenile reprimands, conditional cautions and ABCs). But in the first two terms the relevant legislation tended to arrive piecemeal and without much fanfare. For a Labour Prime Minister to announce, as a “particular priority”, a project to “bring back a proper sense of respect” in society seems… well, it seems downright weird, apart from anything else. But it certainly seems like an open and emphatic move to the Right.

Blair’s new Cabinet reflects his new priorities. In particular, the campaign for a proper sense of respect has a voice in Cabinet, in the shape of David Miliband (“Minister for Communities and Local Government”). But thereby hangs a tale:

Gaby Hinsliff, 8 May:

Nor did Blair get everything his own way. The job created for Miliband – Minister for Communities and Local Government, with a remit ranging from council tax reform to anti-social behaviour and crackdowns on yobs – was originally earmarked for Blunkett. That avenue was closed after both Prescott and Clarke put their feet down: the more tactful Miliband was an eventual compromise.

Private Eye 1132:

John Prescott pronounced himself “particularly delighted to welcome David Miliband” as a second cabinet minister in the office of the deputy prime minister (ODPM) – as well he might be, having fought off the prime minister’s initial intention to plonk Alan Milburn or David Blunkett in the middle of his empire, which would have diluted his power still further.

Michael White, May 11:

This week the usual problems were compounded by leaks of what are now said to have been no more than “internal musings”. Thus David Blunkett had let it be known he wanted the kind of local government and communities job which David Miliband got. That was never a runner with Mr Blair.

Perhaps not. It’s worth noting, however, that Miliband’s new brief encroaches on the turf of Prescott’s ODPM as well as Clarke’s Home Office, making its award a clear sign of Prime Ministerial favour. Moreover, it represents a continuation – and, presumably, intensification – of some of the initiatives most closely associated with David Blunkett’s time as Home Secretary. It also brings with it responsibility for local government, a topic on which Blunkett can (and probably does) claim to be the Cabinet’s resident expert.

In short, the simplest explanation of Miliband’s new post is that it was designed as Minister For Being David Blunkett – and redesigned hastily in the face of resistance from Blunkett’s once and future colleagues. This also helps explain the current confusion within the Cabinet as to who is actually the Minister with Responsibility for Yobs and ASBOs. Clarke, who dealt with this stuff after Blunkett left, appears to feel that it is still a Home Office matter, and has given the job to Hazel Blears. Blears hit the ground running: she has already proposed uniforms for teenagers doing community service, as well as delivering the obligatory denunciation of hoodies (“Mrs Blears denied that the Government was straying into ‘dangerous territory’ by saying what people should and should not wear.”). Prescott has also weighed in, presumably on the basis that he is Deputy Prime Minister, and so if there’s anything to be handled by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister who better to speak about it than, and let me just say, setting aside all the cheap jibes, I think we can all agree, quite clearly and simply, and that’s where we are at present.

What all this adds up to is that David Blunkett’s fingerprints are all over three ministries instead of one. It begins to appear as if one of the new government’s main policy initiatives – an initiative which makes emphatically public the government’s break with one of the key traditions of the Left – was designed around a disgraced ex-Minister. We knew, of course, that Blair wanted Blunkett back in government, but we may not have appreciated how much Blunkett’s return mattered to him.

Assuming for the moment that this analysis is accurate, I think it tells us a couple of interesting things about the state of New Labour. One is that Blair’s ministers are becoming the ideological driving force of the government. The point here is not just that Blair is running out of ideas. The Blunkett/Blair relationship reminds me of nothing so much as something a minor Nazi official wrote in 1934:

everyone has best worked in his place in the new Germany if, so to speak, he works towards the Fuehrer. Very often, and in many places, it has been the case that individuals, already in previous years, have waited for commands and orders. [...] Rather, however, it is the duty of every single person to attempt, in the spirit of the Fuehrer, to work towards him. Anyone making mistakes will come to notice it soon enough. But the one who works correctly towards the Fuehrer [...] will, in future as previously, have the finest reward of one day suddenly attaining the legal confirmation of his work.

The Nazi belief in the ‘leader principle’ at all levels, coupled with Hitler’s notorious idleness, made “working towards the Fuehrer” one of the driving forces of the regime. The “Fuehrer’s Will” was supreme, but it could not be known, only guessed; the golden rule was “What Would Hitler Do?”. Ironically, what Hitler did – other than delivering endless unfocussed rants against his enemies – often amounted to little more than endorsing or condemning the initiatives taken by his subordinates. (Not that this diminishes his responsibility as leader – if anything, the reverse is true.)

As one junior Nazi was favoured over another, as one version of National Socialism was endorsed and another rejected, Hitler’s followers formed new impressions of what the Fuehrer wanted. They “worked towards” the “Fuehrer’s Will” as they understood it – and the process continued. Leading Nazis were bitterly divided among themselves, and often pursued radically different policies within their own fiefdoms. What united them and drove them on – and, arguably, radicalised them still further – was the lure of the Fuehrer’s approval. Hitler himself rejoiced in not having a detailed programme. He didn’t need one; all that mattered was that he knew what he wanted – that is, he knew it when he saw it. And he knew that the Nazi regime would provide it: that was what it was there for.

While Blair and Blunkett are many things, they’re certainly not Nazis. But perhaps part of Blunkett’s boundless assurance derives from the confidence that, as he moves further to the Right, he is working towards the Prime Minister. And perhaps Blair welcomes this approach. He’s never been a deep thinker; he probably wouldn’t have come up with anything as coherent as Blunkett’s order-and-discipline agenda unaided. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is that Blair knows what he wants, and knows what New Labour is. That is, he knows it when he sees it – and he knows that ministers like Blunkett will provide it.

The second interesting element of the story is the suggestion that Blair’s proposals were met, not with a bit of a tug-of-war between his people and Brown’s people, but with an out-and-out turf battle (“internal musings”, indeed). This suggests that Blair’s ministers are becoming the political driving force of the government – and they’re not necessarily driving it Blair’s way. Blair’s authority has been significantly weakened by the election result, in Cabinet as well as in Parliament and the country. We already know that back-bench rebels will have a major part to play in this parliament; the anti-New Labour roll of honour may yet be joined by the likes of Prescott and Clarke.

You’re lucky I’m there

This excellent post from Jarndyce brought Norman Brennan to my attention. Brennan runs the Victims of Crime Trust, who operate on the basis that our criminal justice system is currently biased against the victims of crime. Jarndyce shows just what offensive and dangerous nonsense this is. What I hadn’t taken in, though, is that Brennan has recently branched out: when the fancy takes him, he rallies to the defence of convicted criminals:
Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust welcomed the court’s decision to free Walker. He said: “What she did was wrong, but so was the sentence.

“If the criminal justice system continues to fail to protect the public and victims of crime, I predict that more and more people will look to taking the law into their own hands and that is anarchy.”

Let’s take that step by step. Linda Walker took the law into her own hands, by threatening some lads with an air rifle. And that is anarchy (a word which I think we can assume Brennan uses pejoratively). That said, Walker’s action was a predictable by-product of the criminal justice system’s failure to protect victims of crime, and its failure to protect the public in general (Walker’s certainly suffered from loutish behaviour, but she’s not a victim of crime). Because of this, presumably, Walker’s sentence was ‘wrong’, even though she was guilty as charged – and, what’s more, guilty of a descent into anarchy.

Brennan’s endorsement of actions like Walker’s is a kind of blackmail: if the criminal justice system does not protect people like Walker adequately, they will inevitably take the law into their own hands and rightly so. (The last phrase isn’t spelt out, but it’s hard to see what else to make of Brennan’s insistence that Walker should not have been imprisoned.)

As Jarndyce points out, the idea of bringing victims of crime into court is pretty repugnant in itself: it sentimentalises the law, as well as tending to elide the fundamental distinction between an arrested suspect and a convicted criminal. But this is something else entirely. Brennan isn’t primarily concerned with victims of crime; what he wants is to see more criminals punished more harshly, and to see more manifestations of general loutishness and yobbery treated as crimes. If the criminal justice system can’t do all this, people who feel they have suffered from this kind of behaviour will pick up the slack – and take some victims of their own. And Norman Brennan, advocate for victims of crime, will be cheering them on.

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