John West - Labour supporter and journalist

Currently living in Paris, I'm a Labour member, activist and freelance journalist. I'll be writing mostly about missed opportunities, as I see them, and the necessity to rebuild Labour as a cohesive movement. We mustn't lose sight of reality, but we should sometimes challenge it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Musings on anti-terror legislation and crime

What is happening to Britain? Tens of Islamist protestors outside the Danish embassy in London actively promote future suicide attacks and the beheading of infidels, and no arrests are made. Maya Evans, a vegan chef, stands outside the Cenotaph and calmly reads the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq and is whisked away by police and convicted under Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, 2005. Quite apart from making a mockery of Labour’s public order law agenda (the Islamist extremists could be charged with a range of crimes from the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act to the 1986 Public Order Act, whereas we have had to invent draconian new anti-terror laws to detain pacifists), the two cases serve as poignant examples of the confusion of our times.

The government’s over-zealous rush to legislate amid this confusion is reprehensible, but hardly surprising in a news climate where even the BBC News website, not the most rabble-rousing of sources, had “Violent crime and robbery on rise” as its top story on 26 January, highlighting new Home Office figures showing a 4% increase in recorded violent crime between July and September 2005. Not that this was the real story. After all, the British Crime Survey found that for the whole year up to September 2005 violent crime was 5% lower. The statistics are not contradictory, in fact supporting a hypothesis that more crime is being reported, but less is being committed. Not such a good headline. Indeed, buried in the BBC’s article was the opinion of West Midlands Deputy Chief Constable Chris Sims, a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said that the widespread fear of crime, in spite of falling incidence, was “the most worrying piece of data” from the report.
We are a nation living in fear of being gunned-down, blown-up, abducted and happy-slapped – and yet we are all extremely unlikely to have any of these things happen to us and are statistically safer now than we were twelve months ago. So why do we not believe it?
Essentially because our communities are fractured and so we individually rely on the press - with a vested interest to sell more copy, not disseminate information responsibly - as never before. Labour has a good story to tell on crime, but doesn't tell it because no-one would believe it (the words "Catch" and "22" should be floating around your brain around now). The anti-terror reflexes are an extension of that - and proof that New Labour often rushes to legislate on press whim instead of creating coherent law and order policy and strategy based on results and consistent with notions of liberty.

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