Crime: It's all Marianne Faithfull's fault
23 July 2004
You know how it is. One minute you're listening to Rolled Gold: The Best of the Rolling Stones while you do the washing up, the next minute you're holding up a sub-Post Office screaming 'No bastard copper's gonna take me alive!'
Or at least that's what happens in the increasingly surreal world of Tony Blair. This week Tony announced a new crime initiative that will end the '1960s liberal, social consensus on law and order'. You know the one: when the police stopped arresting people and prisons were abolished in 1968 and everyone went to San Francisco, making sure to wear flowers in their hair.
Which prompts us to ask: what the fuck is Tony talking about (again)? In the 1960s there were changes that protected defendants (let's also remember that the 1960s saw the exposure of dozens of genuinely bent coppers). The 1960s could be said to have been a liberal period, so long as you focus on the social reforms and conveniently forget Enoch Powell and the fact that people would cross the street if they saw an unmarried mother coming. But did the legal system suddenly go soft on criminals?
Of course it didn't, any more than judges started smoking dope in court and acquitting armed robbers because it was 'society's fault'.
Where does Tony get this crap from? Does he employ congenitally stupid advisors?
'Hey Tony, I've had a brainwave - let's blame Downs Syndrome children for consumer debt. Everyone finds their goofy little faces irritating! It's a guaranteed vote winner - let's vilify disabled children!'
That said, it's quite easy to see how Tony locked on to the idea of the 1960s as the root of all evil. Crime is a big electoral issue. Even if members of the public are not directly affected by crime itself, they've got a real fear of crime. Alternatively, they're just sick of seeing 'anti-social' behaviour, even if it's something as minor as having to listen to someone on the bus loudly having a conversation that consists mainly of the word 'fuck'.
The whole issue has been whipped up by the press, who want us to think that we live in a world of rapists, crack dealers, Bosnian pimps and rat boys. Crime hysteria sells papers, and '14-year-old rapes granny' is a better crime story than 'drug rehab unit has impressive success rate'.
Blair's comments seem - yet again - to be tailored to the agenda and vocabulary of the right-wing press. In particular, the notion that rules and discipline were thrown out of the window in the 1960s and a great moral decline began.
This is straight out of the Bumper Book of Daily Mail Crap. As if to prove the point, Blair came out with the Cloud Cuckoo Land cliché: 'When I was young, people still left their doors unlocked'. Maybe they did in tiny villages - or open prisons - but they certainly didn't in towns and cities.
Is Tony suggesting that the '1960s generation' somehow created values and a society that is directly responsible for yobbery, late-night scrapping outside nightclubs, car crime and all the ills of modern society? If there's a link, it's a pretty tenuous one, and what really demolishes Blair's weird argument is simply to look at the causes of crime. What's the more likely cause of, say, late night town centre violence? Is it:
A)The 1960s, or
B) Young men, often brought up with bad or non-existent parenting, who live in a macho subculture where it's normal to drink until you're either pissing your trousers or kicking a complete stranger in the head, whichever comes first?
There's also the slight problem that the 1960s are largely a figment of the imagination of the media. We've been fed so many trite 1960s retrospectives that it's easy to imagine everyone was experimenting with drugs and shagging Marianne Faithful. (Although after a few hours of Marianne's self-indulgent hippy crap you'd be craving 10 years of National Service).
Using this same selective view of history, it's obvious that:
- In the 1950s everyone was a teddy boy. Even your granny.
- In the 1970s everyone was on strike. For a whole decade.
- In the 1980s everyone was either unemployed or snorting coke in the toilets of Saatchi & Saatchi and coming up with ad campaigns like 'Go to work in a car'.
- In the 1990s everyone was into caring, sharing, Feng Shui, crystal toss, etc.
Maybe what Tony means is that liberal values have helped create our yob culture. But what's the connection with the 1960s? If you want to see an obvious cause of anti-social behaviour in the dreaded Young People, just watch Wife Swap, with its seemingly unending procession of terrible, clueless or just weird parents, all of whom seem determined to turn their children into psychopaths and none of whom are baby boomers.
Most worryingly, the whole anti-1960s gig suggests New Labour bases policy on dreadful cliches that don't really stand up to critical assessment. Maybe Blair plans a clampdown on Welsh meat theft. After all, it's well established that Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief. He came to stay at our house and stole a leg of beef.
If that isn't conclusive evidence that we need a government initiative, we don't know what is.