So, it’s a new era for law and order …

As anyone reading the UK news might be aware, Tony Blair, hot on the heels of a not-so-good report on his grounds for taking us into war in Iraq, has announced some new plans for law and order which allegedly bring to an end to the so-called 1960s liberal consensus. The BBC have a humorous look at this here, which points out that Blair is himself a classic 1960s liberal, whose heroes are Roy Jenkins (a member of Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the late 1960s) and the guitarist from Free. While David Blunkett, our notoriously authoritarian Home Secretary, was the leader of the hard-left local council in Sheffield in the early 1980s. (Abdul-Qadir Dallas, not someone I am normally fond of quoting, may have a point when he says that Blunkett’s blindness may play a role in his concern about security, but it’s also likely that the government are running scared from the right-wing tabloid press.)

Blair alleges that one of the main themes of legislation since then has been the prevention of miscarriages of justice. Well, the fact about most western legal systems is that the acquittal of guilty people is better than the conviction (and imprisonment and/or execution) of innocent people. If we have great protection from MOJ’s, I haven’t seen much evidence of it. In particular, our system has locked people up on the basis of decidedly dodgy scientific evidence, and people’s characters have been smeared too. One doesn’t see much evidence of the focus on the offender’s rights either - a lot of these offenders ended up in Young Offenders’ Institutions and these were notoriously violent places.

What I find missing in Blair’s speech is any reference to one of the causes of crime which his party have claimed to be tough on, which is the tolerance of bullying in so many of Britain’s schools. When I was at school, certain people were allowed to get away with attacking people in public on the flimsiest of pretexts, such as the victim lashing out at the attacker after he sat behind him prodding him in the back, or refusing an order to “shut up” with an F-word in the middle of it, or similar non-reasons. It doesn’t come as any surprise that in some neighbourhoods, people are shot for showing other people “disrespect” (see here, here and here). If people think they can get away with beating people up because they don’t like their tone of voice, it follows that some will think they can shoot people for the same reason.

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