Monday, July 14, 2008

Short-Term Policy Making

Having had a discussion in the politics lesson this morning about the ideological imperatives behind Brown and Smith's knife crime policy, it was interesting to pick this up on the Fawkes site this afternoon. After a morning in which there had been animated discussion about the proposal to send perpetrators to visit their victims - a real triumph of liberal hope over pessimistic reality - it has been announced this afternoon that the idea is being dropped. If the prime minister can't even co-ordinate a consistent policy on knife crime, then he really is in trouble.

The 'Today' programme this morning commented, on this item, that the government were keen to be seen to be 'doing something', and herein lies one of the problems of modern, media-managed government. So keen are governments to be seen to be 'doing something' - and this is not necessarily unique to the present one - they are spending too little time actually working out the substance of what they are doing. Thus, what might have seemed a good idea in a quick round-table discussion about how to show they're serious about tackling knife crime, becomes, without further thought or consideration, a policy albatross when it is exposed to genuine debate. We may wonder at Gordon Brown's continuing gaffe prone approach, but we should take no joy from the fact that policy is being managed in such a shoddy fashion.

As for knife crime, it isn't rocket science. Start pouring police resources into the worst affected areas - in terms of actual, people on the ground patrols - and hit knife possession with tough sanctions. Forget trying to appeal to the better side of a knife-owner's nature and start trying to deter and punish!

A useful corrective to the debate, incidentally, concerning the actual numbers we are talking about with regards to knife crime, is here.

5 comments:

Pier said...

Great link to Skipper Giles, but I disagree on your 'Knife Crime isn't Rocket Science' conjecture.

Pouring human capital into an area, using heavy-handed policing methods may deter a person from carrying a knife in his day-to-day activities in the fear of being searched, but if someone was really intent on killing/mugging someone with a knife, it would bear no relevance.

This sort of tactic will attack the knife-carrying culture, but will not necessarily impact upon the knife-murdering culture, especially given that a lot of these murders are pre-empted and occur indoors.

To address the knife-murdering culture, you address a social ill – the social exclusion of certain members and sections of society – which surely isn’t rocket science, unless you’re going to tell me a Giles Marshall-led Home Office would resolve all crime in one fell-swoop?!

GM said...

Far be it from me to disagree with your last couple of lines....

Pier said...

So you would want to tackle the social ill rather than just pontificate-a-la-Sun and demand that tougher prison sentences and harsher prison conditions?!

Oh Giles, you're so left-wing...

consultant said...

Unfortunately, I fear the situation may be worse even than Pier describes. Many stabbings seem to be a result not of premeditated intention to go out and kill someone (which I agree is itself not at all easy to stop), but as a result of young people becoming involved in fights and happening to have a knife on them at the time.

Why are they carrying a knife? Because the situation in which they live their everyday life means they feel carrying a knife affords them the protection that the state has completely failed to provide them. Sending them to jail automatically if they're caught carrying a knife is possibly one of the most counter-productive responses imaginable.

First of all, it will fail as a method of deterrence because, put simply, for many young people being sent to a young offenders' institution or to prison would not lead to a discernable decrease in their quality of life. They have grown up effectively imprisoned on council estates without any opportunity, and where going to prison at some point might be seen as par for the course. This is a key issue in the deterrence argument that is so often completely ignored by politicians who cannot see beyond their own personal view that going to prison would be disastrous for them.

Secondly, sending every 14 year old who carries a knife to jail will rapidly accelerate a descent into criminality which might otherwise be avoided. They do not carry knives out of a desire to commit stabbings, but instead in order to feel safe, because society has failed them. Label them a criminal and put them in a young offenders institution, amongst other criminals, and no one can claim to be surprised when they come out a criminal.

Last year a report commissioned for the Prince's Trust found that 7.7% of 16-18 year olds in the UK are "NEETs" - not in employment, education or training. This represents a generation of people who have been being failed for decades in this country, and it is shameful. It is shameful for David Cameron to stand up and tell these people that it is their own fault that they are poor and dispossessed, when he cannot even claim to know the meanings of the words. It is shameful to demand that every one of them who picks up a knife just to feel safe be consigned to prison. It is shameful that our politicians seem to be content to leave them without hope and without opportunity.

In the 19th Century Paris Hospital System, a change in attitude revolutionised all subsequent medical science. For centuries, physicians throughout the Western world had regarded symptoms as individual ailments to be managed and treated as best as possible. Physicians in Paris began to recognise that symptoms might all be linked to an underlying cause - disease - which if treated would cure the symptoms. Our politicians could do well to learn this lesson. Knife crime is a symptom of the disease of poverty, and there is no use in trying to treat the symptom alone - we must tackle the underlying cause.

GM said...

I am impressed by your analogy in the last paragraph, if only because it is a fascinating piece of medical history, but I do not entirely buy into your belief that poverty is the cause of knife crime (to reverse your causal sentence for a moment). Poverty may be the seedbed out of which it grows, but poverty has not, per se, led to lawlessness wherever it has reared its head, and the knife crime 'wave' in London is also the result of a range of other factors, not the least of which is a belief that the state's own law enforcement agencies have all but disappeared from the territories affected, and thus have no impact. If teenagers are carrying knives because they need to feel safe, it strikes me that one of the first measures a government should take is to reassert its own control. Once it has done that, it has bought itself the time to deal more carefully with the range of underlying causes.