Friday, January 02, 2009

Flogging, the new vote winner?

At some point in the dim and distant past Labour decided that the public wants authoritarianism. If anyone was to bring back the death penalty I think it's a fair bet that it would Gordon's Gang who'd offer to personally slip the noose round the necks of miscreants and criminals, but only if there was a handy camera crew to capture the moment - and I'd always thought it was the Tories who were into flagellation.

Public opinion is fairly fluid on these matters and appears to be largely influenced by whatever event is highest in their memory at any one time. So the latest suggestion that we put punishments up for public vote would appear to be an exercise in arbitrary justice, with people who commit the same crime in different areas and/or at different times receiving very different levels of punishment.

I guess we've already got a postcode lottery in health, why not make that justice too?

Mind you seeing as we've just seen someone banned from carrying pens I suppose having a completely random criminal justice system has been part of the overarching policy of the Labour government going all the way back to 1997. More to the point it's an attempt to bring back public humiliation as part of our penal system, something that was abolished in this country some time ago. Public humiliation discards any attempt to rehabilitate offenders and reintegrate them as useful members of society and places the emphasis squarely on a divided society between those looking out, gratifying themselves on the degradations of those on the outside, looking in.

Both the bizarre public voting and the high vis jackets are down the line attempts to draw a clear line between "us" and the "others" who threaten our way of life. Justin is absolutely right when he says that the jackets are about "informing the rest of us how to react" to crime and criminals. They aren't about the offenders - they are about us, our instincts, and the way the government wants us to define ourselves.

The game is well and truly given away by the labels, community payback is a term specifically designed to create the image of the community getting their revenge upon miscreants - pitchforks, flaming torches, nooses, poplar trees and all. Now, whilst there maybe some people in our communities, usually when drunk, calling for this sort of misanthropic retribution it's the Labour Party who is proposing making it a reality. They aren't bowing to public pressure they are actively trying to lead public opinion towards the idea that two-minute hates are appropriate responses to minor offenses.

What's interesting about the government's green paper is that by giving the public a direct vote over punishments for "low level" crimes like "public disorder" the effect will be to make the punishment worse for minor offenses than for more serious crime which wont bring with it such public censure.

When our Home Secretary comes out with vacuous tripe like "justice seen is justice done" it really gives me the shivers... no Jaks justice done is justice done - you're talking about P fucking R, and it isn't cool.

I'd argue that placing those serving under community service orders (which I'd always assumed were about attempting to instill a sense of community in the offender rather than hammer home to them that they aren't wanted round here) in high vis jackets in high profile work placements will most likely decrease the number of offenders completing their community service and increase the likelihood that these people will begin to identify themselves fully and completely as a part of an underclass, lowering their life expectations and making the task of turning their lives around very difficult indeed.

This ghastly new moralism has begun infecting every nook and cranny of society. We even had a local piece about street football being anti-social. Well, where do you start when you're told "Cambridgeshire Police says combating street footballers on two housing estates is a priority for 2009." [my emphasis]

I know there's not much crime round here but if the cops think fighting kids with no facilities is a priority for them then they should get a life. Do we get a choice about living in this grisly distopia or not? When Louise says that the government is about "More punishments, disproportionate ‘justice’ and understanding a lot less and condemning a whole lot more…" I think she's right - but might even be understating the case.

Everyone recognises this year will bring more unemployment, more poverty, more social problems - is it really a coincidence that Labour's response is to humiliate the poor still further? After all they don't have a solution to the economic crisis so they better distract us with something, the more gory the better.

Zoe Williams in the Guardian said that "when you're branded on your person, you are demeaned. It has connotations of a livery, which lacks even the dignity of a uniform, as the wearer's identity is appropriated to accessorise the ambitions of the owner."

Do not tell me Jackie Smith hasn't read Kafka because she clearly has, and uses the arbitrary and impenetrable power of the institutions he parodied as her ever constant companion. The "idea of shame as a meaningful and, more to the point, harnessable tool of justice" completely smacks of the pettiness, the micromanaging poverty of ambition that this government has towards towards law and order.

One of the contributors on Zoe's piece suggests an "Iraq Payback" vest for the cabinet, after all, as Brecht said "What's the crime of robbing a bank compared to that of owning one?"

I'm more soppy than that. I want a happy society, where the citizens feel part of something that they want to contribute to rather than deface. I don't think that's an impossible ambition - but sadly it would take a very different approach than the one our glorious leaders are currently proposing.


Rayyan said...

Perhaps us Muslims should wear high vis vests too? It seems we can't say anything on an American plane lest it be considered suspicious. Methinks those who reported them had watched Harold and Kumar 2 - without realising it wasn't real.

Labour's crime/law/order/justice/terror/surveillance approach has been almost as disappointing as their foreign wars - because whoever comes into power next, whether it's a reduced Labour government or the Tories, won't reverse any of these proposals.

People were already scared - these laws make them more scared for no reason, and now people expect "tougher" and "tougher" laws. Someone should tell them "tough" in this context usually means "stupid."

Jim Jay said...

This reminds me - there's a video "out there" of Dean Walton discussing policing in Lewisham where he's very critical of the approach of putting up those terrible yellow signs warning people to be afraid (I mentioned these in March).

How is it effective policing to make everyone frightened of each other? I suspect it actually makes people more likely to be victims of crime rather than less.

Rayyan said...

It's just pandering to the worst elements of the press, isn't it? And hoping people get the message, without realising the government doesn't have a clue as to actually how crime can be prevented.

Sadly I think all parts of the press are starting to unabashedly chase sensationalism - check out this story the Independent put on their frontpage, not that it should be surprising - they've been pandering to the liberal anti-Muslim vote for a long while now.