Crime. You know how it is.
You get up in the morning, make a cup of tea, fight off an intruder, brush your teeth and get dressed, get mugged on the way to work, have a chat by the water cooler, get a distraught call from your gran, who's besieged in her own home by chav scum pouring petrol through her letterbox. Depressed, you go down the pub for a quick pint at lunchtime, where you glass someone for no reason, go back to the office, groom a couple of kids on the Internet, finish work, get home to discover you've been burgled, bung a ready meal in the oven, nip out for a bottle of wine and get mown down in a hail of machine-gun fire by local street gangs.
We've all been there.
Crime, as ever, is one of the big election issues. But in the absence of reliable crime figures, we decided to carry out the UK's smallest, least rigorous crime survey. We present:
The TFT Crime Survey
Methodology: At TFT we listed every incident of crime affecting ourselves and friends or relatives that we could think of on the spur of the moment. We left out tangential stuff such as seeing a fight between strangers, however entertaining, and, for reasons of taste, sex crimes.
Our findings were as follows:
1 cashcard stolen at a cashpoint
2 bikes stolen
Numerous burglaries, but usually the same house/area
1 handbag nicked in pub
1 credit card copied and used
1 intimidation by teenagers (friend's dad)
1 fight on train that was solely the fault of idiot workmate
Numerous muggings (mostly without serious violence, although some violent), including a snatched mobile phone
4 other mobile phone thefts (method unspecified)
1 car broken into (pack of fags on dashboard stolen, car not)
1 Auntie's wall graffitied (by 'The Bastard Squad', whoever they
1 bizarre case of being sprayed with vomit from a squeezy bottle (really) after wandering into a scrap between two teenage gangs in Elephant & Castle. Not really a crime, but not very nice, nonetheless.
The flaws of our 'survey' are obvious. For a start, it's not really serious, it's not statistically meaningful and we've definitely missed out loads of crimes that happened to other people which they haven't told us about, or we've forgotten about. However, our little survey does provide a thumbnail sketch of crime experiences, and suggests:
- We at TFT have our fingers on the pulse of contemporary crime victimhood: we've had mobiles snatched, a credit card copied and a cashcard nicked in an over-the-shoulder scam;
- Even in our tiny survey, people EITHER tended to be repeat victims of mugging or burglary OR experienced very little crime at all, reinforcing the idea that crime is localised;
- Some crime is noticeable by its absence - in particular 'yob crime', eg. being punched in a kebab queue;
- Given the scope of our survey (ie. everyone you know, ever), the number of crimes is quite low.
Of course, our scatalogical crime survey is skewed by factors almost too numerous to mention, eg. younger-than-average people are less likely to have a garden shed to get broken into - unless you're committing some serious breaches of the planning regulations and you've somehow built a 'hanging garden' protruding off the balcony of a sixth floor rented flat. Similarly, the vast majority of our unwitting participants don't live on frontline-of-crime estates (but nor do they live in gated communities).
Overall, our survey suggests we're certainly not in the middle of a crimewave. And if you adjust for living in cities and being younger people who go out more, chances are that the average experience of crime in the UK is less than that suggested by our 'survey'.
None of this squares with the election message we're getting from politicians, and, of course, the media, all of whom revel in crime for various reasons.
Labour and the Tories are both presenting crime as a fact of everyday life. At some level maybe it is, but not serious, life- fucking-up crime, and you have to question whether it merits the prominence given to it. And if crime is highly localised, then it's not just a case of cracking down on the yobbochops - in the long term we need to fundamentally change the lives of people in certain areas. Unfortunately, no politician with a functioning brain would fight an election with the slogan 'A holistic approach to crime'.
As for the media, well, crime sells papers and it's good telly, isn't it? (As an aside, it's worth remembering that TV routinely presents murder as harmless entertainment. It's odd, because you'd be a bit worried about anyone who settled down with a cup of tea and a pack of Hobnobs to watch Paedophilia on the Orient Express.)
An interesting point is that our group of 'respondents' managed to avoid being the victims of alcohol-related violence, an area of crime that statistics suggest is blossoming, and which is regularly featured on TV shows about binged-up Britain and its 'no go' town centres. We can only conclude that Booze Britain, Drunk and Dangerous and Streetcrime UK 3 are not the most reliable sources of information about crime.
Scaremongering and a lack of realism about crime really aren't good ideas. They skew government priorities and, in terms of the election, will surely lead to apathy. Not only does scaremongering erode public trust in politicians, but if it's taken as read that we live in a crime nightmare to rival the Deathwish films, then what can anyone do about it, except not live in a 'rough' area?
(Although we would suggest: not hooting into your brand new G3 mobile as you walk through St. Paul's in Bristol at 3am.)