Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I Blame The Scapegoats

So Tony has unveiled how exactly he proposes to enforce his "respect agenda". Quite apart from the fact that there doesn't seem to be a particularly coherent vision behind this agenda (unless you're talking about the prevention of anti-social behaviour, which sounds less like an agenda and more like an aspiration any reasonable person would agree with), the details of the plan are highly worrying.

An increase in on-the-spot fines is perhaps the worst thing; that's just introducing summary justice. Blair says that whilst spitting at an old lady in the street is a crime, the manpower needed to force a prosecution makes it unenforced. How will on-the-spot fines work any better? Only if the policeman happens to see the incident himself, and surely not even a yob is stupid enough to spit at an old lady whilst an officer is watching? Otherwise, will fines just be given on the basis of an accusation made by someone else? And given that the biggest problem with stopping petty crime is the absence of officers from the street, advocating greater powers for fines misses the point.

But then the government is also proposing powers to evict "anti-social" residents from their homes for up to three months. How, exactly, is this going to be defined? Once again, the example given doesn't say why powers should be extended: Charles Clarke talking about a constituent of his affected by the persistent playing of loud music from nearby students. Well, if the music was too loud, there are noise pollution issues through which people can already be dealt with. The draconian measure of eviction just doesn't fit the bill.

Of course, the choice of students tells you a lot about the 'respect agenda'. It's just picking on the scapegoats. Students are easy targets as far as the target audience is concerned. It's another one of the government's initiatives that looks far tougher than it is; designed to create an impression in the minds of the people when its reality is actually something much different - if indeed it is achievable at all. If Blair wants to overturn the principle someone is innocent until proven guilty, he will have to come up with a much greater justification.