Friday, 5 September 2014

Let's Stop Talking Bread And Circuses

I have just watched yesterday's Daily Politics on iPlayer and I found the contribution by Nick Ross very interesting, especially when compared to that of Conservative MP Philip Davies. The article was about law and order and how the police are asking the public to investigate their own crimes. Philip Davies was asked how the Tories, the party of law and order, could allow this to happen. He blames his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats because they are not the party of law and order. How does he get away with pure insult? Nick Ross was a guest and he explained the insult later in the interview. I can assure him that all Liberal Democrats are in favour of law and order.

Philip gets away with insult because he uses rhetoric to hide what is really happening. Philip always votes against a reduction in the police budget. He sees how stretched the police forces are. He believes in strong law and order measures. He tells us it is ludicrous to send out a message that the police want the public to investigate their own crimes. He thinks it is sensible to gather information like CCTV evidence in order to help the police. The police should reflect the public's priorities. The police do a "damn good job given how stretched they are and the issues they've got to deal with". All these points will get applause from an audience but as Nick Ross said, whether the police or the public investigate is "all a bit of a distraction...bread and circuses". Is Nick saying all that applause has been wasted? Not entirely but there should not be an emphasis on the criminal justice system.

Nick made some great comments and it would be useful to summarise them. Only 3% or 4% of crimes end up in court. We are never going to "arrest ourselves out of trouble". The reason why some crime rates are falling is nothing to do with arrest rates e.g. car crime and burglary. It isn't even CCTV or the number of police officers on the beat. However a politician on the right tends to think that if we are nastier to the criminal then we get less crime. Those on the left tend to think that if you are nice to people then you get less crime, but the effects from the criminal justice system has only marginal effects on crime rates. Temptation and opportunity are much more important factors in affecting the crime statistics. Nick gives the example of fiddling expenses by MPs. Even the Prime Minister had to pay back money. If the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade had their way maybe they would have to include the PM.

So when Philip Davies says the police should attend every burglary he hasn't listened to what Nick has said. Nick replies that we have to tailor our expectations because there are not sufficient resources. Philip comes back and says this is "absolutely my point". Sorry Philip, this is absolutely not your point. You want the police to attend every burglary regardless of its effectiveness.

Official figures tell us that crime has been falling over the last twenty years. Is this related to more bobbies on the beat? Well Teresa May tells us the drivers of crime are alcohol, drugs, opportunity, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, character and profit. She goes on to say that if we can understand these drivers better than we should be able to devise better policy to prevent crime occurring. This sounds very liberal for a Tory Home Secretary and liberal views were also reflected by the Labour Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper. She told us how the last Labour Government placed a big focus on crime prevention but she sees 'neighbourhood policing being undermined' but she does want to 'bring criminals to justice'. We are back to the rhetoric that gets applause and it is just a shame about the 96% or 97% of crimes that don't end up in court.

Mark Reckless MP, who serves as a Conservative on the Home Affairs Committee is of the strong opinion that crime has been falling because of political will. Thankfully Nick Ross is not on his own with his view that this is just bread and circuses. Betsy Stanko, a criminologist told us that the issue is not just about locking people up because they are going to come out again.

Nick said we have to lower expectations about what the court system can achieve. Andrew Neil asked Philip Davies if politicians would stop taking credit for a reduction in crime figure (and presumably stop getting applause) No, we still need to be "tougher on crime".  He still rates highly the criminal justice system and politicians can take the credit for that, so Philip will still take the credit. When Tory politicians use their rhetorical skills and get applause for their toughness on crime then they have conveniently forgotten the bread and circuses.

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