You have to get 43 paragraphs into his speech on anti-social behaviour (“ASB”, apparently) before you get to what he’s really getting at.
Unfortunately, most journalists seem only to have made it to paragraph 38, where he mentions (among many other reasons, all to do with the shifting nature of social relations and structure during the last century – although most of them actually started with the dawn of the industrial age) “mass migration”.
Some sections of the press, skimming through, seem to think this means he’s blaming crime on immigration in yet another attempt to pander to the tabloids. He’s not. At least, not really.
Blaming crime on newcomers and darkies may be populist for some sections of society, and may provoke others into blind rage, but the real worry is Blair’s categorical statement that he supports “summary justice” – also known as “arbitrary justice”, more properly described as “punishment based on accusation, not evidence”:
“Because we care, rightly, about people’s civil liberties, we have, traditionally, set our face against summary powers; against changing the burden of proof in fighting crime; against curbing any of the procedures and rights used by defence lawyers; against sending people back to potentially dangerous countries; against any abrogation of the normal, full legal process.”But here’s the rub. Without summary powers to attack ASB – ASBO’s, FPN’s, dispersal and closure orders on crack houses, seizing drug dealers assets – it won’t be beaten.
“That’s reality. And the proof is that until we started to introduce this legislation, it wasn’t beaten”
That’s right, folks – “anti-social behaviour” has been “beaten”. He continues:
“Without the ability to force suspected organised criminals to open up their bank accounts, disclose transactions, prove they came by their assets lawfully, you can forget hitting organised crime hard. It won’t happen.”
Yep – sod evidence, sod the rule of law. Sod legal rights that have been established for centuries and survived riot, rebellion and revolt in tact.
The really odd thing, however, is that near the start of his lengthy speech (though soon countered with statistics suggesting a severe decline in law and order since the 1950s), Blair insists that crime has gone down since 1997 and seems to acknowledge that public fear of crime has risen disproportionately to the overall crime rate. In other words, that the problem is all perception, not reality. He argues first that there is no crisis, then uses the same non-existent crisis to propose fundamental changes in the way this country works.
He again repeats ’97’s mantra “Tough on Crime, tough on the causes of crime”, yet dismisses all explanations of causes – from the “criminals are evil” brigade on one extreme to the “crime is caused by poverty and desperation” lot on the other.
In fact, Blair seems to have no idea what causes crime whatsoever. Which is fair enough, in many ways, as it’s bloody complex. You’d be an idiot if you thought you could explain the thing. Which means you’d also an idiot to try and tackle its causes if you have no idea what those causes are.
So it’s only appropriate that the causes of crime get not a single look-in during Blair’s speech. No appeals to improved education, to fostering community relations (no mention of the Respect Agenda either – remember that?), to providing opportunities that may give alternatives to crime.
Instead, he focuses exclusively on how best to ensure criminals (both proven and suspected) are punished. And this is punishment as deterrant, not punishment as rehabilitation.
In other words, having again used the line about “fighting 21st century problems with 19thcentury solutions”, Blair is proposing a return to pre-19th century solutions, where punishments were vastly disproportionate to the offence.
Blair’s vision of justice is a medieval one – inflict so much harsh retribution on people who you think have failed to abide by the law that all live in terror of the power of the state, and only the most desperate or depraved resort to crime – only to be met by a system of justice that allows little or nothing in the way of defence (hence his mention of “curbing… the procedures and rights used by defence lawyers”). The summary justice apparently approved of by Blair is little better than branding, trial by combat, or throwing suspected witches into a river.
Ah, but how silly of me:
“Each time someone is the victim of ASB, of drug related crime; each time an illegal immigrant enters the country or a perpetrator of organised fraud or crime walks free, someone else’s liberties are contravened, often directly, sometimes as part of wider society… if they [suspected terrorists] aren’t deported and conduct acts of terrorism, their victims’ rights have been violated by the failure to deport.”
Of course – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… (A twisted utilitarianism, Tony? I thought you’d already rejected the 19th century’s contributions to the way we look at the world?)
But then comes the admission – hidden way down in the middle of the speech – of what the real thinking is here:
“even if they [suspected terrorists] don’t commit such an act or they don’t succeed in doing so, the time, energy, effort, resource in monitoring them puts a myriad of other essential task at risk and therefore the rights of the wider society.”
In other words, to save time and – especially – money, it’s better to punish the innocent.
With such brilliantly logical thinking, why not just shoot everyone in the head at birth? That’d prevent them from committing any crimes and save a lot of time, energy, effort and resources and all…