Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Michael Howard is an Arse

Woooeee, Blunkett has some competition, it seems. In an effort to out-H.O. the current H.O., Michael Howard sets out his sights for a new, determined, anti-crime vision across Britain. Is it enough? Apologies for going off the Blunkett-topic, but I think that many of the arguments laid out here apply equally to the direction that Blunkett is headed in.

This is a relatively long dissection of his speech, so to avoid taking up the front page of the blog with it whilst allowing people to add comments, I'll post it as the first comment on this post - if you're reading this on the front page, just click the "comments" link below. I've also posted it here.

1 comment:

Scribe said...

Anyway, Mr Howard actually starts off well, and to some extent I can't disagree with his introductions...

"In many ways the police, our courts and the prison service are simply picking up the pieces of other people's failures. ... Most damaging of all has been the dramatic decline in personal responsibility. Many people now believe that they are no longer wholly responsible for their actions. It's someone else's, or something else's fault - the environment, society, the Government."

I'm a great believer in the idea that with liberty comes responsibility - to some extent, we must realise our role in the world, and our relation to others that we must share it with. This is personal responsibility towards others. And we should expend much thought on how we can achieve this balance between responsibility and enjoyment.

However, a little further on he starts to lose it a bit...

""I've got my rights" is the verbal equivalent of two-fingers to authority."

OK, I see what he's trying to say here - he means that the police know someone's guilty of a crime, but they can't prove it (as they reached it 2 minutes too late), and so there's not much they can do, and this is evidently a bad thing. Thus, these "rights" apparently disrupt police ability to arrest. But phrasing it this way is also starting to tread on the Great Blunkett's security-conscious toes here... Both parties now seem quite happy to sweep any idea of human rights aside, in order to take back control of a society which they seem unable to control through non-enforcement means.

"The clear distinction between right and wrong has been lost in sociological mumbo-jumbo and politically correct nonsense."

Clear in whose eyes, exactly? Yes, there are acts and activities that would be considered illegal, and therefore wrong - car theft as the first example I can think of - but I'm not so sure where about right and wrong when it comes to anti-social-ness.

For instance, under-powered mopeds and scooters annoy me. Several of them park outside my window and wake me up in the morning with their irritating buzzing, as I'm sure they do many people in neighbouring houses. Thus, to some extent, it could be considered anti-social. But is it wrong? Is it right? How about if I live next door to a pub, the exiting customers of which keep my child awake until midnight?

I accept that there are behaviours that Mr Howard is considering in his speech, but I think he's heading down an extremely slippery slope to start casting aspersions as to "right" and "wrongness" as a punishable, criminal offence in his speech. And this is where the danger lies - poorly-defined, overly broad laws that end in a society where people simply call the police on each other, rather than working towards a solution.

Howard tben goes on to ask some questions of parents and teachers...

"Why do some parents allow their children out until the early hours?

How does it help parents instil discipline if they are told that they cannot smack their children?

Why can't teachers discipline disruptive pupils any more?

This is the point where the speech descends into good ol' fashioned totalitarian Conservative values that we love so much. The transcripter must have nipped out to the bog at the point where Mikey asks questions such as "Why aren't parents educating their children towards rational respect?" and "Why aren't schools somewhere to learn about how to co-exist with others?"

A quick pick at the Labour party...

"This year we will spend £19 billion on our criminal justice system - the equivalent of £316 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Home Office spending has risen by 65 per cent since 1997.

Followed by a hint that could make sense if liberally taken out of context...

"It's about culture, belief, approach."

But then we find out that... Yup, more police is the answer, apparently. Police (along with parents and teachers) that are free to go about their punitive duties...

"They cannot police our streets if they have one hand tied behind their back, or if paperwork keeps them chained to their desks."

Howard then makes a statement that's quite ambiguous. On one hand, he's obviously referring to the bureaucracy in the system that he's just mentioned when he says:

"This is the politics of the mad house."

But in actual fact, it also serves as an ingenious portent for his later section on, to which I shall come back to.

Before that, there is a reference to policy proposal that I would have to check up on before understanding it fully:

"Of course [a fatherly influence] isn't always possible because a large number of men simply abandon their responsibilities as fathers.

But there are many fathers in Britain today who do want to play their part, yet cannot get access to their children.

Conservatives believe that there should be a strong legal presumption in favour of both parents having equal rights in the upbringing of their children.

This change to our family law will mean that fathers are much more likely to remain involved in their children's lives even when families split up.

If there's a relationship between lack of fatherly influence, fathers not wanting to play their part, and anti-social crime, how will better rights have a considerable impact? Will the Tories be forcing fathers to see and smack their children? Divorce to be made illegal next? Hum.

After fathers, headteachers may be set to gain more power over expulsion:

"If they decide to expel a disruptive pupil, they will not be second-guessed by an outside panel."

Although no word on what would be done with the unruly child once they had been expelled.

But then - aha - we return to the Police Force, that bastion of sensible enforcement:

"We need a police force which intervenes, confronts and challenges every kind of crime and disorder - from graffiti and litter to burglary and robbery.

In short we need zero tolerance policing.

In length, that implies that the police will be given powers to arrest or trouble those it doesn't necessarily like the look of. It means that you can expect greater monitoring and assumptions of people's activities, and there doesn't seem to be any mention of just how all this will be made accountable. How, at any point, will we know that the police methods and targets in reality are not simply old-fashioned techniques to abuse and suspect people just because they're different? Ah well, details, eh?

Oh, look, see?

"Increased stop and search is part of the solution to rising crime.

Effective policing depends on stop and search.

And Mr Howard admits these powers get abused:

"Not surprisingly the police used those new powers.

But no sooner had they done so than the Government instigated an inquiry into their use.

And, furthermore, claims that such abuse will go ignored!

"Politicians in Whitehall need to stop second guessing the police at every turn."

At least, that's how I read it...

Let's just hear it summed up so succinctly....

"We will massively increase police numbers across the country."

After a while, we begin to fulfil the prophesy made earlier. Howard realises that prisons are overcrowded, and that this leads to problems - both within the prisons themselves, as well as with the justice system's ability to operate. So the answer is to build more prisons:

"It's not a question of if we build new prisons - it is a question of how many new prisons we build and what kind of prisons they are."

Now, at this point I'm a little confused. I thought, up til now, that more policing was supposed to be a deterrent to crime, and that the threat of incarceration, and removal of freedoms, was a way to dissuade people from doing naughty things. Now, I realise, Howard's vision is to actively separate the undesirables from the law-abiding goodfolk - to mostly ignore the problems that poverty and lack of responsibility cause (as he claimed earlier) and just shove
everyone away, under the carpet.

At this point, the phrase "This is the politics of the mad house" takes on its full potential, as we start to see the similarities between Howard's proposed policies, and many of the intents behind aging initiatives that set out to partition the poor and the insane. And what of the fathers that are imprisoned? If their lack of presence in their children's upbringing is so important, wouldn't it make sense to just lock up entire families in one go?

However, Mike then does a small u-turn, and decides that rehabilitation rather than remand is an option for some - the drug abusers. Although perhaps this only applies to the younger ones...

"we will increase the number of rehab places to 20,000 - enough for every hard drug addict aged 16 to 24."

Presumably if you're older, it's the slammer, along with the rest of them, who couldn't make it through rehab the first time and so were given up on. No hope.

Then, there's a recount of the Tory leader's CV, and an executive summary for those fed on soundbites and tabloid headlines, but nothing worth covering here.

Blunkett is bad, but Howard is worse, judging by his rant today. Under him, the only society we would get is one in which those too poor to afford private protection would be either locked up from teenage years, or raised in a society of brutal discipline, and fear of others - not respect. By resorting to force and discipline as the primary method to bully society into something supposedly respectable, Howard proposes to turn us into a people of the same attitude as those he seeks to castigate and segregate - a nation that believes in order through totalitarianism rather than understanding. A nation that lives bitterly and that lacks thoughtfulness, rather than one that seeks to thrive on education and civility.

Let's just hope that Blunkett doesn't try to out-H.O. Howard now.