As in so many other areas, the coalition doesn’t seem to have a consistent policy towards crime. Cameron does the zero-tolerance posturing so loved by anaemic sheltered politicians. His ministers argue against prison sentences and tell violent recidivists that a fake apology will cut their time in half.
The ultimate rightwing approach would be no publicly funded police force, with the rich hiring private security firms to protect them from the proletarian hordes. The last Tory government concentrated police presence in the city centres and the suburbs while adopting a laissez-faire policy towards the hinterlands and inner city ghettoes. Aside from the occasional Orgreave-style deployment against enemies of the state, Thatcher was happy to let the poor kill each other on the edges of town.
Crime hits the poor hardest, and the consequence for working class communities was horrific. Name families treated entire estates as personal fiefdoms. Labour introduced a raft of crime legislation and police powers to deal with conditions on these estates, measures that lost a few civil liberties votes but (in my experience at least) were welcomed by many people who actually lived in working class communities.
Policy is already going the other way. The housing benefit cap will make entire towns and cities uninhabitable for people on benefits or even on a low income. The head of the National Housing Federation predicts that: ‘The housing benefit caps could see poorer people effectively forced out of wealthier areas, and ghettoised into poorer neighbourhoods.’ That’s the idea.
Who is going to police these ghettoes? Meet Francis Jones. He’s a security boss and born-again Christian. His Sparta Security patrols council estates in Darlington at a cost of £3:50 per resident per week.
I used to be a naughty paughty, working in bars and clubs – I’d never turn down a fight. Now I’m walking the honest path and protecting the people of Darlington who sign up for my service. I prayed before I started that this would benefit the Lord. But if someone assaulted me I wouldn’t hesitate to defend myself. I’m game as a pebble!
It seems likely that Francis Jones is heading for Big Society good times:
I was at an event [where the speaker was] Sir Paul Stephenson [the Metropolitan police commissioner] last week, and he effectively said that UK Police plc was open for business. It might be up to us to get a bit more proactive and make the most of the opportunities there.
Actual coppers have reservations. This is Peter Davies, assistant chief constable at Lincolnshire police:
First, there is a point about accountability – if regular officers are discriminatory or discourteous, they are subject to a proper complaints process, which comes with policing by consent – these firms don’t have that.
The second problem is that commercial enterprises can be tempted to generate high levels of fear, which they can then exploit for commercial gain. Finally, there is a question about training. These companies may have received some basic training to get a licence, but it is unlikely to prepare them for everything that might be expected of them.
Expect more stories like this.
‘Respect my authoritah!’