A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Compass breaks cover

Labour's pamphlet-writing tendency, Compass, has broken cover today with a statement in the Guardian by the two Jons (Cruddas and Trickett) which appears to be some kind of very politely phrased, coded even, critique of Brown.

It's in full here, with a wider list of signatures from the usual suspects: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/article.asp?n=981

I am struggling to understand after carefully reading it what, beyond sounding a bit more left, they want Gordon to do.

There are lots of warm words:

They want "an intellectually and morally coherent vision for his premiership". Great. I expect Gordon being both intellectual and moral, already has one. But what voters want to see more than a vision is good schools and hospitals, low crime, security, a strong economy and preferably not to have to pay too much tax for it. If they suffer from inequality they probably want to be have a fairer share of the cake. Most of them couldn't give a toss about the "moral and intellectual" coherence of the package as long as it makes life better for their families.

They want "change" - but of an unspecified nature. They welcome the policy changes that Brown has already made but don't seem to trust his judgement to deliver more of the same direction, yet at the same time don't tell him what they do want him to do.

They don't want a "big tent" - hang about I thought Neal Lawson et al were amongst the loudest proponents of pluralism, and "let's not be beastly to the Lib Dems". Later in the same statement they contradict themselves and call for Brown to look "beyond the Labour Party".

They are against "dry economism". Being professional politicians or chatterati, the Compassites are handily insulated from real world concerns like inflation, unemployment and high interest rates that happen every time you lose focus on "dry economism".

But I can't find any actual policies except for an attack on the reactive change of position on inheritance tax. I.e. Compass confronted by a new Tory policy that is so hugely popular it is the primary policy contributor to turning a 10% Labour lead into a 7% Tory one pick reacting to this as the one specific thing to mention that they don't think Brown should have done!

They pander to the refrain of saloon bar morons up and down the country: voters are being "refused a meaningful choice". A) this is rubbish - there are hundreds of meaningful choices on policy between Labour and the Tories; B) we had a bigger choice between the parties in the '80s and early '90s - unfortunately presented with it the voters chose Thatcherism. I really do pity Labour Party members who can't see the difference between a Brown government and a Cameron one.

They claim Labour has failed to "energise the progressive middle class". I.e. it has based its policy agenda on the bread-and-butter aspirations of working people rather than the hot topics at the Islington dinner parties attended by some of the statement's signatories. Because of course the role of the party founded to represent the working classes should be to "energise the progressive middle class" - a class consisting of perhaps a million at best people out of a population of 60 million - who already had their own party, the Liberals, before we got our act together, but would rather like to control our one too.

They state: " Our essential question is this: what is the Labour government for? We are still unsure." They speak for their own confused selves. As far as I can tell most Ministers, MPs, Councillors, activists, members and voters - and the PM - know exactly what a Labour Government is for: delivering a more equal and just society with high quality public services and a strong economy. We've been doing it for ten years, and we should all get on with contributing to delivering it - and generating the policy ideas to take it forward. I don't see any way in which the latest Compass threnody makes any practical contribution to that. What a pointless organisation.

61 Comments:

Anonymous John said...

Fair points luke, but there is an urgent need to reduce inequality - it impacts more than anything on the bread and butter issues - and that requires the moral courage to make the case for redistribution instead of doing it by stealth, as if it were shameful. I don't want politicians who simply mirror public opinions - that's a recipe for stagnation; i want politicians with their feet on the ground, but who have a vision that can lead people to see a more moral way of doing things. The way our democracy runs is that it sums up a load of individual self-interests and calls the result the public interest - clearly that's wrong: reductions in emissions etc may be hard for the individual to stomach, but for society at large and future generations it is vital - so we can't just carry on as we are: some problems need solving precisely because they go against prevailing opinion. That requires something more than brand-management - namely, a strong, attractive morality. If he would just be himself, I'm sure Gordon can provide it. If he doesn't, we'll all pay the price.

11:03 am, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I agree - but what the Compass article singularly fails to do is to set out a single practical policy step that would reduce inequality.

11:07 am, October 30, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

Again, largely agreed.

One major action, partly symbolic and partly very practical, which I would suggest on inequality: Alistair Darling should urgently revisit his decision to halve the tax rate on holiday homes.

11:24 am, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger susan said...

Like you, Luke, I have not a lot of time for Compass. From thereon in, we part company. The Trickett/Cruddas piece is, as I said on my blog, a masterclass in self-delusion. Because the Compass cabal wanted Brown to be a return to social democracy, well, he had to be didn't he ? They are confused because they cannot accept he is a serious believer in market forces, a fan of privatisation, evangelist for globalisation and even more draconian than Blair on matters like ID cards and (worse) immigration. In short, they are bothered, bewildered but seemingly unable to accept the obvious truth which is that Brown will steer his own course thanks without recourse, as you say, to the Islington dinner party set.
This week's welcoming of King Abdullah is a new low even for Brown. It's no good bleating about Burma and Zimbabwe then welcoming someone who thinks beheading is acceptable justice. Equality? britain today is more unequal than ever.
Ultimately, Compass has a choice. It accepts that expecting New Labour and Gordon Brown to change is a waste of time - and acts accordingly in a realignment with the real left and groups like the LRC. Or it fades into even deeper insignificance. My guess is Gordon laughs his head off at the hand-wringing from wishy-washy lefties Cruddas and co - after all, they helped him win the leadership without the bother of a contest.

12:30 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Anonymous Dan said...

Luke, you are being too kind to Compass. The only policy they mention specifically, the recent inheritance tax change, they got wrong.

Brown's Pre-Budget Report did not ape the Tories increase in the inheritance tax exempt amount. Rather, it allowed spouses to inherit each other's unused exempt amount. This was a fairly sensible simplification - people with accountants and tax advisers have been able to achieve the same thing very easily for years.

There was plenty wrong with the Pre-Budget - particularly the ill-thought out non-domicile proposal, and the cut in CGT which gives a bonanza to owners of second homes and share/property speculators. But the inheritance tax change was sensible, and it's a pity Compass couldn't be bothered to understand it.

Perhaps it's for the best they keep away from policy and stick to whinging.

1:01 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

The government needs to abandon the marketisation strategy within public services, and they have certainly failed with regard to achieving equality - forgetting that equality of opportunity is simply not enough. That's not social democracy, its just wet Toryism. Everyone agrees with it.

Brown does need to get his act together - at the moment, he appears to be following , not leading. And he is simply too much like Blair, but now with an opposition which has more credibility.

1:03 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I agree with Mike and Susan. Our posturing to the right has made us look like, as Mike puts it, wet tories. Labour supporters of old cannot tell us from them. This is a sad development. New Labour's attempt to appeal to the swing voters might cost us support, as in Scotland.
Since I have mentioned Scotland, I have to say if I still stayed in Aberdeen I would be sorely tempted to leave the party and support the SNP. They have managed to create a far better interperation of democratic socialism in action compared to us, and they have only been in since May. By wearing our old clothes they are becoming more and more popular. When it comes to practical socialist policy we should follow their lead.

4:03 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger el Tom said...

"Most of them couldn't give a toss about the "moral and intellectual" coherence of the package as long as it makes life better for their families."

Yes, but I could list you a million things which activists and MPs rightly demand of parties which don't come up on voter ID sheets and direct mail replies. I'm sure you aren't trying to feign that you have no belief that wider strategic direction is important? It determines how all the little bits fit together, and to what end.

Compass aren't saying that this is what individual electors demand. They are saying that this is what the sum total of their concerns requires.

"They want "change" - but of an unspecified nature. "

I think that the changes compass would like to see are pretty well documented. As you say yourself, they are a pamphlet writing tendency.

"They don't want a "big tent" - hang about I thought Neal Lawson et al were amongst the loudest proponents of pluralism, and "let's not be beastly to the Lib Dems". Later in the same statement they contradict themselves and call for Brown to look "beyond the Labour Party"."

They're not talking about to other parties, silly. They're talking about the wider labour movement, NGOs, think tanks and civil society groups.

"But I can't find any actual policies except for an attack on the reactive change of position on inheritance tax. I.e. Compass confronted by a new Tory policy that is so hugely popular it is the primary policy contributor to turning a 10% Labour lead into a 7% Tory one pick reacting to this as the one specific thing to mention that they don't think Brown should have done!"

What is the point in winning elections if not for Labour values as opposed to tory values? If you're willing to yield to tory popularity for tory reasons to the electorate, why not just support the tories? What's the point in resisting the dominance of tory politicians if you in the same position would just do their work for them?

Are these issues, which to me are completely fundamental, of no concern at all to you?

Sometimes you have to accept that you're in the minority and try to change that circumstance.

"They pander to the refrain of saloon bar morons up and down the country:"

But on inheritance tax I suppose they think that they should! This completely contradicts the argument used above.

"voters are being "refused a meaningful choice". A) this is rubbish - there are hundreds of meaningful choices on policy between Labour and the Tories;"

But when compass oppose the removal of them and their gradual removal, you get concerned about it.

"B) we had a bigger choice between the parties in the '80s and early '90s - unfortunately presented with it the voters chose Thatcherism."

Have you no desire to change that?

I didn't choose Thatcherism anyway. I was a child. Things have changed.

"They claim Labour has failed to "energise the progressive middle class". I.e. it has based its policy agenda on the bread-and-butter aspirations of working people"

Aye, like protecting your £700,000 house and denying rights to agency workers.

"who already had their own party, the Liberals, before we got our act together, but would rather like to control our one too."

...when in fact it should be controlled by business people who are far superior to the middle class, by the mail reading conservative parts of the middle class who are much more put together, and the influence of unions should be curbed...

"As far as I can tell most Ministers, MPs, Councillors, activists, members and voters - and the PM - know exactly what a Labour Government is for: delivering a more equal and just society with high quality public services and a strong economy."

...pity about the stagnant levels of equality and poor social mobility then... but why bother trying any harder, eh?

"We've been doing it for ten years, and we should all get on with contributing to delivering it - and generating the policy ideas to take it forward."

Again, actually read the pamphlets, and you'll find many good suggestions. Starting with those rights for agency workers, a renewal of the green agenda and a bigger house building programme would be nice.

"what the Compass article singularly fails to do is to set out a single practical policy step that would reduce inequality."

Um... that's because that's not what it's for.

4:57 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes. Its all very well saying that the core vote doesn't matter, whilst you have the backing of a load of Tories on loan whilst their party descends into farce.

But that isn't the situation now. The Tories are credible again.

So, Labour will lose those votes and we need to win back those from within our core groups who have deserted us - thats the intellengtsia liberal-left - not huge in number but they vote religiously, and in the last election, many for the LD's which lost us a fair few seats both to them and to the tories owing to the fall in our vote.
Then there's the core working class vote which has simplky not been voting at all.

Both of those groups need positive reason to vote for us. If the LD's choose Clegg, he may well appeal more to Tory voters, but that doesn't bring our voters back to us - which is what we need.

It doesn't mean adopting far left policies, but new labour has become rather tarnished and not very New any more Labour. We need a bit more of the Labour, and look towards what those core groups ,desire. We are not going to win back the Tories who have returned home!

5:00 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I don't believe that the Guardianista middle classes are our core vote - right up until the late '60s most teachers for instance voted Tory.

I agree with you about needing to motivate the working classes to vote. But you can't win an election on Labour's historic working class support of old because demographic and social change e.g. decline of unionised manufacturing industry means there just aren't enough of the kind of people you are thinking of in the right kind of seats to win an election even if they all voted and all voted Labour.

My experience of canvassing working class voters is also that whilst their views may be "left" on public services, workplace rights, redistribution (as long as it is explained as benefitting them personally), they are very definitely not leftwing on defence, crime & ASB, immigration. Arguably we need to be more rightwing to motivate the council estate core vote. Many of them are also aspirational - something Thatcher really understood with right to buy.

5:09 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can feel Compass's pain though - they hoped ahgainst all the available evidence that GB was some great leftist who would save them from the apostasy of Blairism and what have they got.

Now they are reduced to calling manifesto policies that won us a third term as "failed policies of the past" - presumably as opposed to the glorious victories of 79, 83, 87 and 92.

8:09 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

That's because most teachers used to have conservative values.

There is very clearly a liberal-left vote, which has increased with the growth of HE, and it largely votes Labour. Without that vote, Labour doesn't win many seats it would otherwise.
We certainly can't manage purely with the working-class core - not enough of them.

So, we do need the middle class progressive vote. Putting forward a rightwing social agenda will lose those votes, and not win back the council estates if the basics aren't there - and we should know, as social democrats, that rightwing sloganising means nothing without economic benefit for those in difficult circumstances. So, we must get the economics right to win back that core vote. The rightwing social agenda will not do it on its own. And it will lose us other votes we need.

And forget about winning back people who are Tory but simply opted for us because the Tories were unelectable. That is no longer the case. I don't like Cameron, but he is credible and reasonably human, which can't be said for his predecessors. The Tory vote has clearly recovered and is higher than it has been for a while.
Forget, too, about relying on winning back Essex Man. Frankly, they ought to be Tory in any case. A small majority is fine - large majorities led to far too much caution.

8:15 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Having been a PPC in the Essex heartland of Canvey Island and growing up in Kent which is similar territory I won't be giving up on Essex Man. They are good people who deserve a Labour Party they can feel comfortable voting for.

9:39 pm, October 30, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

I don't honestly feel that sort of Labour party would be one that a gay man like myself, living in the North, would be very comfortable with.

I think we will only get those votes when those voters are just totally fed up with the Tories, as happened in 1997. But the Tories are their natural home - because they are right wing on both social AND economic issues!

Much better to ensure that we ensure that the liberal-left vote, where our values are shared often despite personal interest. remains with us, not the LD's. It also makes more sense electorally. We don't need Essex, frankly. But if we lose a high portion of the liberal-left vote to the LD's then seats are lost to the Tories by default. We also lose our activists - party membership is at a notable low and those who have left are largely in this category.

9:53 am, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Mike

you say "We don't need Essex, frankly."

But in Essex are:

Harlow - the Tories' number 6 target
South Basildon & ET - their number 31 target

Next door in North Kent, which is culturally very similar, there are 7 or 8 key marginal seats. Then another batch in Hertfordshire and bits of North & East London that are very similar territory.

I find it extraordinary that any Labour supporter would dismiss an entire area of the country as unwanted. That's the sort of arrogant stance the Tories took on Scotland. We are supposed to be a national party.

And these are not areas of stunning wealth or privilege. Basildon and Harlow are new towns full of manufacturing jobs and council housing and people whose grandparents used to live in the East End. They are culturally pretty working class. They are not Henley or Tunbridge Wells.

The trouble is that if Labour people like you say you don't want or care about the votes of people in Essex, we will end up with a replay of the famous Basildon result in 1992 that heralded a 4th Tory victory.

10:09 am, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

That's not a terribly accurate portrayal of Harlow, Luke. I don't know Basildon as well.

The original residents of Harlow New Town may have been East Londoners in manufacturing jobs but since then they have been joined by thousands of more affluent Londoners and the constituency includes several of the nearby villages which are *very* Tunbridge Wells.

There is a lot of wealth and privilege alongside the demographic you describe.

10:46 am, October 31, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

Further to not needing Essex, large chunks of the marginal Pennines, Cheshire, etc are similar in political outlook amongst potential but not guaranteed Labour voters. So we'd have to not need them either.

If only we could persuade some of these working class people with their sound common sense views to join the party, enter Parliament, and write our policies. It would be a miracle for the party and the country. Any ideas, Luke?

11:47 am, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Luke: I lived in Harlow for 15 months. We can afford to lose it and still retain a Labour majority.

You appear to suggest that it is more important to pander to the right wing opinions of Essex Man than lose liberal-left votes to the LD's or Greens. Electorally, and in terms of offering a national appeal, I would disagree.

If we are to become the party of the Sun reader, then I would too opt for the LD's or the Greens.

2:58 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I'm sorry but I joined the Labour Party to maximise the number of Labour MPs.

There aren't any seats I don't want us to win in.

And if you want to be in a party that is sniffy about Sun readers and doesn't want their votes then [anglo saxon expletive deleted] and join the Greens.

3:13 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Luke Akehurst said...
And if you want to be in a party that is sniffy about Sun readers and doesn't want their votes then [anglo saxon expletive deleted] and join the Greens.


Kelvin Mackenzie (Mr Murdoch's favorite editor) said of the average Sun reader,

“ You just don't understand the readers, do you, eh? He's the bloke you see in the pub, a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he's afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdoes and drug dealers. He doesn't want to hear about that stuff (serious news)"

I'm with Mike, the Sun is a piece of trash and anyone who considers it a valid piece of jouralism is brain dead. As for their vote they can shove it up their cazoo.

5:27 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I think Mr MacKenzie does his former readers a great diservice. There are about 4 million of them. Most of them read it not because they are dreadful reactionaries (if you were really into right wing nonsense you would read the Daily Mail - there's only ever about 2 or 3 pages of "political" stuff in the Sun) but because its coverage of sports, celebrities and TV is timely, often scoops its rivals, fun to read and written in an accessible style.

The complete snobbery towards ordinary working class people and popular culture - mainly because their views conflict with the bourgeois liberal paradigm you buy into - exhibited by some of the comments here is shocking.

5:59 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Oh no, it's another one where I disagree with everyone!

We can win in Essex - and I want to win in Essex. Where you're all wrong is imagining that constituencies ANYWHERE are homogenous bodies where everyone has a stock set of opinions which, if we only parroted them back to them, they'd all lap up and vote for us. It's rubbish! In every constituency, just as in the country, you have to form a careful coalition of support and some people are going to hate you. You can win in Essex without being an impression of 'Essex Man' (if such a creature really exists!) Tory voters will carry on voting tory (for the most part) we can win tory seats without them: you need the Labour voters, you need to nick the Liberal and other votes, and you need the non-voters and the new voters. It's a hard job, but it's a worthwhile one. And you get them by building coalitions: you can't abandon core Labour voters so copying the policies of the party that have the seat and your core want rid of isn't sensible. You also need other people who should and might vote Labour: so - beyond 'core' working-class voters, we can add public sector workers, students, minority ethnic groups, people concerned about equality, about peace, about their local communities. You need to join - and where appropriate lead - local campaigns. You need to take a lead in promoting, spreading and defending your values.

(On the Sun point, I know lots of left-wing Sun readers: Kelvin's characterisation is typically shoddy; he assumes that his readers were working-class versions of himself) The Sun is not chosen for its political comment.

6:10 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Sorry the maths just doesn't work.

You need people who voted Tory in 1979-1992 (or their kids) to vote Labour for Labour to win. Many of them are objectively working class. Their concerns are Labour's concerns on public services etc. but they don't understand why they should have to accept daft ideas on crime and defence as part of the package to get decent schools and hospitals.

The Essex Man stereotype does exist, I canvassed many thousand of him in Castle Point.

The coalition you put forward will never add up to an election winning one - loathe as I am to quote Nixon, he correctly said "minority plus minority equals minority".

We haven't copied Tory policies, we've listened to what ordinary working people want, which is a strong economy AND investment in public services AND a tough line on crime, security and defence AND social justice.

I believe tyhe working class bit of our core vote wanted that even in 1983 - they were just so loyal many of them voted Labour despite the nonsense in our manifesto.

6:45 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

I come from a working class Tory family on one side. Maybe that's why I'm a bit more realistic and less rose-tinted-specs than you are, Luke!

11:04 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

... and we may well keep most of those who voted for us in 92. But we won't win all of those who oopted for us in 97. And many Tories who didnt vote in 01 and 05 will turn out.

Thats why it is simply madeness to think that you can ignore the solid liberal-left bloc - which votes in muchg
greater numbers, and who are there for the taking, unless we really do come on like a Sun leader column.

But, Luke, you seem to take great delight in mocking their views - which, frankly, would give us a far better society than the collective opinions of Castle Point!

Some of us are economically moderate social democrats who have liberal social values. Do you really want us all to vote LibDem?

11:08 pm, October 31, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I accept the good points you have made regarding The Sun's readership (in the 1992 election just as many Sun readers voted Labour, voted conservative)which I think proves my point. There will always be a prediposition for some working class people to vote conservative (here atleast the "Alf Garnett" stereotype is true). By conjouring up policies to appeal to this demographic can and will alienate our tradtional supporters thus making us more reliant on swing voters.
I agree with you and Dunc, there should be no "no win" areas in Britain, I would prefere it however if we could resort to good old fashioned debate rather than sensationalism. By the way does anyone know what has been going on in Birmingham? If these alligations are true it really is horrendous.

10:49 am, November 01, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Mike

it depends what you mean by
"liberal social values". I think I have liberal social values on what in NUS we used to call "liberation politics" (all the equalities issues associated with BME groups, women, people with disabilities, LGBT etc.) and on some other issues like Europe, constitutional reform etc. but I guess my values are not what you would call liberal on "security" issues - defence, crime, ID cards, ASB, counter-terrorism etc.

11:08 am, November 01, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:09 am, November 01, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

I agree that some of the people who voted tory 1979-92 AND some of their kids have to vote for us. So we have to change their minds. That's what campaigning politics is all about - as a 'roundhead' I would have thought you'd concur with me! We shouldn't surrender ground to our enemies - and that is what embracing tory law and order policies is effectively doing. Yo're absolutely right that people are concerned about security, law and order, etc, etc. Those of us who have so-called 'liberal' views (I don't know how on earth I became a 'liberal' without changing anything I believed - I'm not a ruddy liberal!) have to defend them, justify them, fight for them and convince people how they are in their interests. Most of us are doing it day in day out on issues like immigration, race, asylum, etc. (those issues you characterised as NUS liberation politics) and, damn me, it's difficult but we do change people's minds.

I have to say that a lot of the people we have to win are much more conservative on those liberation issues than on so-called 'security' issues (I never meet people who are nuke-enthusiasts any more, for instance) - so it often comes down to having nothing to do with psephology and more to do with psephological justifications for our own beliefs. Why not just defend your views on their own merit?

3:25 pm, November 01, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I don't believe being tough on law and order IS Tory or that this government's law and order policies are "Tory".

Why should we allow them to suggest we are soft on these issues?

In what sense is it Labour or indeed socialist to be soft on crime or terrorism?

I actually believe in the New Labour agenda - it's not a set of stuff I've signed up to just because I think it's popular - though it is.

It's popular and it's what people believe in because it's right. Ordinary voters are usually pretty good intuitive judges of what will make life better for their families.

Hard left policies are unpopular because they are nonsense, not because we haven't sold them enough.

4:24 pm, November 01, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Fair enough Luke. We are probably not as far apart as you imagine - I'm in a different place to you on defence, but not necessarily on say, ID cards ( I believe they should be Europe-wide, though), and probably not on law and order either. I did four years on the police authority and am involved with police liaison work. I'm just a bit tired of all the kneejerk stuff, though.

And I think those on the left who take a 'realist' view sometimes over egg the pudding so not to appear 'soft'. For example, prison is ineffective, a university of crime, and hugely costly, so why can't we actually organise a proper system of community based reparative punishment in this country - which would be neither soft, and would be more effective in terms of deterrence??

4:46 pm, November 01, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

But Luke, my views are not 'soft' on law and order, and I don't think our government has been especially tough on law and order: what we have is a lot of illiberal gimmickery which must drive professionals in the law and order and justice systems round the bend (it's bad enough in education!) So much of it is just headline-grabbing crap, which doesn't help people's actual security in their communities: it's rubbish. Recognising the complexities of the relationships between crime, social exclusion, poverty, education, housing, etc. is not being 'soft' or being 'liberal' it's being sensible; and frankly I couldn't care less whether it's branded 'hard left' or anything else.

Imprisoning people for 56 days without charge is not 'tough on terrorism' it's tough on people, probably muslims, who have (rightly or wrongly) come under suspicion. To try and equate a concern about that with being 'soft on terrorism' is dishonest and actually a bit ridiculous.

Back to the Maths - you say the coalition I referred to won't win us an election: it did; in 1997 and 2001. Our voters weren't voting for the party they believed to be tough on crime and defence; sure, people want to believe that we prioritise those issues that matter most to them but, like you, I have quite a lot of faith in people and I think they can distinguish between genuine attempts to improve the security of their community and tough-sounding empty rhetoric designed to get an approving headline in the Daily Mail.

5:01 pm, November 01, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"For example, prison is ineffective, a university of crime, and hugely costly"

No. Prison is very effective, and a bargain compared to the crime which is committed when you let people out. Community sentences, if you use an accurate comparator, rather than "all people getting any kind of punishment" are a failure for most types of crime and offender.

We should be building more, and filling them up.

10:37 am, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

JDC, I hope you are joking here when you suggest locking up all the criminals regardless of offence.
My view is we should imprison the most violent of offenders (first degree murder, rape, armed robbery paedophiles etc). The rest should be dealt with as Mike suggested in the community. I would also like to know how many of these lesser offenders have a decent standard of education. Remedial education, drug and subtance abuse, councilling, community service orders and the opportunity to work after they have paid their dues might help deal with the worst excess of crime. That is not soft, in fact it is good commonsense and in keeping with our democratic socialist ethos.

11:38 am, November 02, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"I hope you are joking here when you suggest locking up all the criminals regardless of offence."

I don't think I suggested that at all, but I'm not joking when I think we roughly need to double the number of people currently in prison. That would still leave a lot of criminals roaming free. In fact by locking people up after a smaller number of offences we may find that the total increase isn't as large as I anticipate, since many of the people being locked up would be entering prison in any case after they'd ruined a few more people's lives.

Your suggestion that we shouldn't imprison people for Manslaughter and GBH is troubling though. We're alread stupidly soft - you get a couple of years now for beating a disabled man, setting him on fire and throwing him in the river, where he drowns. For me, that's life sentence murder. For the courts, it's apparently entry level manslaughter.

Deal with them in the community if you want, as long as it's your community, not mine.

11:47 am, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Then how cfome3 other countries which do not have a prison-centred way of dealing with non-violent crime have so much greater success?

Or are those noble working classes just inherently criminal??

12:15 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

JDC, you seem to me an otherwise intellegent individual, why miscontrune what I am saying?

Certainly people who have commited phyiscal injury to an individual or group should be handed a costodial sentence (unless the act was commited in self defence).

The majority of people who are imprisioned generally are, poorly educated (or are mentally disabled), drug addicted petty criminals.

You are not making your community safer with the sort of approach you seem to support. To me the answer is clear, prison does not work. By all means lock up people who are a danger to our society, the ones who cannot be saved, however not all crims fall into that category an should be helped to rejoin society.

1:08 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"Then how cfome3 other countries which do not have a prison-centred way of dealing with non-violent crime have so much greater success?"

For example?

We could probably double the prison population and still only be imprisoning the violent, mind.

1:08 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

JDC - the problem you refer to with regard to your specific example is not a problem with the proposal to not use prison where it isn't appropriate, it's a problem of the charges: I completely agree with you that case you refer to is murder (a particularly unpleasant one at that) and I know of nobody that thinks murderers should not be imprisoned.

The question you have to ask is: what is prison for? There will be several answers to that, and it performs some of those roles quite well and many of them peculiarly badly. If prison is to be punishment then it clearly seems harsher (and therefore 'more successful') than some community-based alternatives, so that might be a tick (as 'seeming' is quite important in the basic world of punishment). If it is to keep dangerous people away from the community then clearly it is the only option (and personally this is where I would use it, more-or-less full stop). If it is to be a deterrent then it can be reasonably successful, but many crimes are commited by people who don't think they will get caught; others are commited at times when people clearly aren't thinking rationally about the consequences of their actions, and some are commited by people who have embraced prison into their lives, and expect to spend time inside periodically. In those latter cases, it is not especially useful for that reason. If it is to rehabilitate people and prevent them committing crimes in the future, then it is demonstrably useless.

1:10 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

Ravi - I have not miscontrued what you said. You want prison, for example, for "First Degree Murder". Not sure where this 'first degree' thing comes from anyway, the US, I imagine.

"Certainly people who have commited phyiscal injury to an individual or group should be handed a costodial sentence"

That's a great start! It would certainly result in the more proactive use of custody than at present (e.g. when blinding ninety year olds in random attacks on public transport).

"The majority of people who are imprisioned generally are, poorly educated (or are mentally disabled), drug addicted petty criminals."

Indeed! Where do you think we can monitor their progress on kicking drugs, and ensure that they get education - a residential context, or somewhere that they have to turn up for an hour a week?

"To me the answer is clear, prison does not work."

To me it is clear that I should be paid whether I turn up to the office or not, but the facts don't bear that out. Prison works. The claim that it doesn't is a liberal lie put about by people who don't suffer the effects of crime. Prison is not only as effective as other sentences at preventing reoffending on release, it has the added advantage of protecting society for the period of imprisonment.

"You are not making your community safer with the sort of approach you seem to support."

I assure you my community would be a great deal safer. I

f the thug who beat up the old lady who feeds my stray cats had gone to prison the first time, my old lady would not have been beaten up a second time.

If the hooligan who vandalised and threatened people at a school where a friend works had been locked up, he would not have thrown a firework into the playground yesterday, injuring four children, one seriously.

What doesn't work is inflicting these people on the community because, in large parts of the country, the justice system has surrendered day to day control, and will only act after a tragedy.

1:17 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

Thanks Dunc - the problem is that *everything* appears to be useless at preventing people committing crimes in the future, so I go with preventing them committing them now, for as long as possible. Punishment and deterrence are good too, if hard to quantify.

Certainly we could make prison work a lot better (I imagine forcing people to learn and not take drugs would upset Liberty, but never mind).

However the claim that community sentences work better is a dubious liberal nonsense (and I appreciate you didn't make that claim). People getting community sentences have, necessarily, committed different crimes and (generally) less serious ones.

It's a completely different sample group - it would be like saying that antibiotics are a 'better' treatment than chemotheraphy, because more people who are given antibiotics recover.

1:25 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

Thanks Dunc - the problem is that *everything* appears to be useless at preventing people committing crimes in the future, so I go with preventing them committing them now, for as long as possible. Punishment and deterrence are good too, if hard to quantify.

Certainly we could make prison work a lot better (I imagine forcing people to learn and not take drugs would upset Liberty, but never mind).

However the claim that community sentences work better is a dubious liberal nonsense (and I appreciate you didn't make that claim). People getting community sentences have, necessarily, committed different crimes and (generally) less serious ones.

It's a completely different sample group - it would be like saying that antibiotics are a 'better' treatment than chemotheraphy, because more people who are given antibiotics recover.

1:25 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Interesting stuff. There are difficult issues to balance here. The mistake that is often made is that people should either be concerned about the victim or the accused; either seek to prevent crimes or punish them; either seek to deal with crime or the causes of crime (to borrow a phrase!) And of course there is no reason at all why we can't consider both, and appreciate the impact one has on the other.

The examples that you have employed are shocking ones and have a clear impact. However, for every such example, there are people in prison because they were stupid, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or because of a variety of social and familial factors which mitigate (to some extent) against what they have done. There is a legitimate question to ask about what impact prison has on such people. To ask the question is not to deny justice to the victims of their crimes, nor to put law-abiding members of the community at risk: it is merely to look very carefully and sensibly at the system we have and the outcomes we want to have from it, reach some conclusions from that and act accordingly. The system we currently have has some clear deficiencies: you illustrate some of them; the high incidences of suicide, abuse, drug abuse, etc. in prisons illustrate others. The necessary reforms are not all 'softening' or 'liberal' (though I hope they are not illiberal) - but neither is the solution all about toughening up sentences and increased custodial sentences.

3:55 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

However, this debate is as much about what happens in prison as it is about alternatives to prison.

4:03 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:14 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Ravi Gopaul said...
JDC, the interpretation of the letter of the law seems to be your bug bear. Yes there have been ludercrious sentences meeted out to what I too would consider violent crime. That does not prove to me that prison works (violent crime is up)
The reason I used the "americanism" to differentiate between a vicious murder and say a battered women killing her tormentor.
Your point about prison being a place for education and treatment (with regards to drugs) as well as a place for punishment is wrong too. If prison should serve as anything it should only be as a place of punishment, our prisions are simply not equipped, funded or staffed to deal with remedial education and drug councilling. Reoffending can arise due to the difficulty in finding a job. People can then find themselves in a neverending circle of vice. If we want to stop crime we have to deal with the underlying poverty issue (I'm sure you can agree with me on that) as I don't think prison acts as a good enough deterrent.
With regard to me never experiening crime I can think of a few, racially assulted (verbally and physically, my house was broken into, my car was broken into, my butcher was murdered with his own cleaver and I've been threatened with a knife does that count?

4:17 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"That does not prove to me that prison works (violent crime is up)"

It's down overall since we started increasing the prison population rather than the Tory policy up to about 1994 of letting working class communities fend for themselves.

You sound like you have lots of experience of crime. I wonder how many of the perpetrators had already committed numerous crimes and received no punishment, or community sentences?

4:46 pm, November 02, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Look at virtually any Northern European country, JDC.

The fact is that prisons which bring together young , inexperienced criminals with more experienced ones, and which are riddled with drugs, are little more than universities of crime. The main thing which happens after release is a greater knowledge of how to commit more crime and usually the ex-prisoner is better at running away from the police.

Most people do actually grow out of committing petty crime as all statistics demonstrate, but prison as it stands is expensive, the prisoner puts nothing back into the community, it doesn't rehabilitate (how can it?) and has done precisely nothing to reduce the crime rate.

12:39 am, November 03, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

... and the point is that we do not have any sort of properly developed reparative community-based scheme of rehabilitative punishment. if just a fraction of the huge amount of money spent on prison was invested in such schemes then we may be able to compare fairly!

12:42 am, November 03, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"Look at virtually any Northern European country, JDC"

While most of them have fewer people in prison, they actually have more people in prison per crime committed - so the likelihood of going to prison if you are a criminal is greater, not lesser, than in the UK.

The reasons why our crime rate is higher for any given level of prison use are varied, and don't make terribly comfortable reading either for the right (underemployment, inequality) or the left (absence of school discipline, rapid migration).

1:07 am, November 03, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes, JDC, thats because non-prison based punishments work better in terms of recidivism, and there is less crime in the first place, which prison clearly fails to prevent - and costs a fortune!

You're not seriously trying to say that most prisoners are there for committing crimes of extreme violence against innocent bystanders??

12:03 pm, November 04, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"Yes, JDC, thats because non-prison based punishments work better in terms of recidivism"

No. They. Don't.

Again, to repeat myself, this is like saying antibiotics are 'better' than chemotherapy because more people who are given antibiotics recover.

Because we let people offend seven or eight times before imprisonment, the people sent to prison are already persistent reoffenders.

To ask prison to match community sentencing's reoffending rate in these circumstances (and it very nearly does!) is like asking the Prison Officers' Association 5-a-side team to perform as well against Chelsea as against a team from my CLP.

1:01 pm, November 04, 2007

 
Anonymous oldandrew said...

There's no getting away from the simple truth that the British public have to put up with unacceptable levels of crime. Whenever anybody says there should be less criminals in prison they are clearly implying that there should be more criminals out on the streets wrecking lives.

One of the key advantages New Labour had was that it was seen as tough on crime. I fear that advantage is being squandered. To hear the rhetoric of middle class liberals you'd think we can win votes by allowing even more criminals to terrorise working class communities.

With regard to reoffending rates, I bet it's a hell of a lot higher for criminals that are let out of prison that it is for ones that are still locked up.

1:28 pm, November 04, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Well all possible levels of crime are unacceptable to the British or any other public. That's not really the point.

When people say there should be less people in prison it is quite clearly very different from saying there should be more criminals 'out on the streets wrecking lives': to suggest otherwise is to engage in playground debating.

I think JDC makes a lot of very sensible points (though I disagree with him rather profoundly on a few of them) - but let's try and have the debate without absurd straw men being brought into it.

8:52 pm, November 04, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes. They. Do. JDC. Try doing some research. Start with Scandinavia.

12:05 am, November 05, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

... and to repeat myself again, we do not have a proper community punishment/reparative justice programme in the UK. There is nothing here to compare prison with.

12:06 am, November 05, 2007

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"Start with Scandinavia."

Ah yes, like Sweden. The highest rate of recorded crime per head of population in Europe, and the only country to imprison fewer people per crime than we do.

Or perhaps Norway, where the rate of serious assault and murder is higher than in Britain?

7:42 am, November 05, 2007

 
Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Of course, that might just be that Swedes are better at reporting and recording crime.

Fear of crime is much lower in Sweden.

12:02 pm, November 05, 2007

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Now, the country with the highest recorded crime rate is Iceland.

You go to Iceland and tell me that it is a lawless, violent country!

Whilst prisons burst at the seams and recidivism grows and grows here under the failed prison-based strategy of punishment.

12:19 pm, November 05, 2007

 
Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Sorry to have rejoinerd the debate a little late (been off sick).

Yes I checked my figures JDC violent crime is down, however apparently murder is not considered a violent crime (because the victim cannot comment apparently) so the overall figure does not bring this into account.

3:50 pm, November 07, 2007

 
Anonymous oldandrew said...

If somebody can explain how putting less people in prison doesn't mean more criminals out on the streets I'd be very grateful.

7:38 pm, November 08, 2007

 

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