Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Legislating Behaviour

I picked a fine time to start this blog, with a Parliamentary recess starting just after I launched it. So things have been a bit quiet around here. But it has given me the time to browse through various things, one of which was Hazel Blears's own website. I came across a pamphlet she authored called 'The Politics of Decency', and I can think of few better documents that chronicle this government's obsession with the nanny state, controlling behaviour, and passing laws. As such an enthusiastic supporter of all these things, it's no small wonder that Hazel Blears has authored such a document. It is from 2004, but I'd bet money very few people have actually read it. You can read the whole thing here - it's about 40 pages, so you're in for a long slog. But below I have picked a few choice quotes, and offer some comments underneath.

From the very beginning of the document, she makes it very clear that one of its intentions is to examine "the role of governments and institutions in establishing a decent society, through laws, persuasion, example, incentives and sanctions." (p.8)

Straight away, we're talking about a significant amount of governmental control. And not just control; the emphasis is very much on punishment and conditioning. There seems to be absolutely no desire to embrace the self-determination of human beings.

"Is obvious to any sane observer that if society turns its back on young people, they will reciprocate. A society where the rewards for drug dealing outweigh the rewards of work, where the only place to find kinship and belonging is in a street gang, where authority figures, are distant and powerless, where the education system systemically fails the poor, and where the dominant values in society, spread by the media and politicians, are about getting ahead and getting rich, is a society in which decency, law and order are under threat. In short: Tory values and Tory policies cause crime and disorder. Labour values and Labour policies tackle both the crimes and their underlying causes." (p.21)

Leaving aside the fact that Hazel needs a serious lesson in sentence structure, this paragraph is full of wretched spin and generalisations. Hazel is essentially blaming capitalism for crime. As a grotty little socialist she doesn't have anywhere else to turn. But even aside from ideological issues, this paragraph is astoundingly hypocritical. Labour has created a society where doing nothing every week except picking up a benefit cheque has come to outweigh the rewards of work. It is a society in which violent crime is up, and in which inner-city teenagers from poor backgrounds seem to be stabbed every other day. Just last week we saw legislation passed by the government which will rob certain children of the right to a father in their life, so how can Hazel whinge about distant authority figures? And we have a government which hates grammar schools, which provide the best opportunity for children from very poor backgrounds to get a really good education.

"The government's introduction of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) has been successful and popular with local people, and has helped to identify what stands as acceptable and non-acceptable forms of behaviour. ASBOs show that local people can make the law work in their favour, establish norms of behaviour, and reclaim public spaces for the decent majority." (p.23)

This is just one big, fat lie. It is estimated that as many as half of all ASBOs have been breached, and there is a general reluctance to utilise them in the first place. Many jurists see ASBOs as just another way of creating new outcasts, and are uncomfortable with the way in which the government wants ASBOs to have a significant part to play in tackling youth crime. Also note that yet again we have a legislative measure which actually tells us how to behave. Yes, ASBOs, are meant for people who are causing serious disruption, but it's still codifying behaviour and not dealing with the complexities of crime. And isn't it rather hypocritical of Hazel to boast about getting to the root causes of crime on page 21, but endorse a method which does absolutely nothing in this respect on page 23?

"It is today legitimate and necessary for the state to intervene into family life and to support families, whatever their size, shape or circumstance." (p.26)

So in other words, Hazel thinks it is entirely acceptable for the state to interfere with how a family runs itself, irrespective of whether anything harmful or illegal is occurring. If she doesn't like the way you do things in your house, Hazel's behavioural enforcers will be knocking at your door.

"... a big challenge is binge drinking. This behaviour blights most town and city centres every weekend, soaks up police and NHS resources, and creates a public health time bomb in the shape of higher levels of liver disease and alcoholism in the future. This is today's challenge - and governments must act through public information and advertising, voluntary agreements, partnerships with industry, and new laws." (p.32)

And what better way to deal with binge drinking than to introduce 24-hour opening for pubs and clubs. Well done Labour! Hazel seems to be suggesting that we will need some more laws to correct the problems caused by the last laws they passed. It just fills you with confidence, doesn't it?

"Many countries, including France, Germany, Italy and the USA, have so-called Samaritan Laws, which compel citizens to report and assist in road traffic accidents. Can this principle goes further? Do we need a framework of law which compels the citizen to help in other situations where their own lives are not placed at risk, but their intervention could help another person. Perhaps we need a debate about new laws which compel people to report crimes such as assault, burglary and vandalism, and make them responsible if they fail to report such crimes. Should reporting a crime be a duty encouraged in law?" (p.33)

This really is the icing on the totalitarian cake. Throughout her asinine pamphlet, Hazel blathers on and on about the generosity and kindness of human nature, and yet she seems to think that helping those in peril needs to be a legislated requirement of human existence. Such a thing doesn't need to be part of the law, because it is already part of us. And being Hazel, she of course mentions a "debate", which in her mind means pretending to listen and then doing whatever the hell she likes. She also seems to be under some delusion that people don't report assaults, burglaries and acts of vandalism. I'm pretty sure that people do; the problem is that all they receive for their efforts is a police incident number and a leaflet telling them how they can prevent being punched in the face or having their house broken into. And what on earth does she mean by "make them responsible if they fail to report such crimes"? Is she honestly suggesting that people should be prosecuted, fined or cautioned for not reporting a crime? I can see the slogan now; 'Tough on crime; tough on people who don't report crime'.

If you have the time, I really do recommend a reading of this pamphlet. Naturally, this isn't because it contains anything worthwhile, but because it's a perfect demonstration of the controlling, vapid and downright nasty nature of this government, and of this particular individual.


alberich said...

Congratulations on this admirable initiative, which I shall do what little I can to publicise.

I share your view that the termagant, Blears, is the personification Conan Doyle's adage, "Mediocrity recognises nothing but itself", as well as of all the intrusive, infantilising pettiness of the incumbent government. You could not have picked a more deserving target.

The raven as a harbinger of doom is also an excellent choice. Is your portrait by Masahisa Fukase?
We should not forget that it fell to the ravens to notify Wotan - another one-eyed kleptomaniac and control freak - that the game was up before he and his coterie were incinerated.

Let us hope that the electoral equivalent happens to Brown et al sooner rather than later.

The Raven said...

Thanks for your kind words.

The picture is just a piece of clipart I found; nothing special to my knowledge.

And I do like your comparison with Wotan. I suppose that would make Tony Blair Siegmund, or, perhaps even better, Blair as Siegfried and Brown as Hagen?...