Saturday, August 13, 2011

The politics of fear

Advising the Big Brave Cameron on police tactics is Bill Bratton, the former New York police chief, who is telling the Great Leader that many young people, especially gang members, had been "emboldened" by over-cautious policing tactics and lenient sentencing policies.

Losing public confidence in its ability to provide security - through force if necessary - created "incredible difficulty" for a police force, he says, then advocating that a police force should have "a lot of arrows in the quiver". Thus does Bratton advocate a doctrine of "escalating force" where weapons including rubber bullets, Tasers, pepper spray and water cannon are all available to commanders.

What an extraordinary volte face we have here, compared with July 2006. Prior to Cameron delivering a speech widely labelled as "hug a hoodie", The Observer on the 9 July was reporting with approval that The Boy would "completely re-engineer the Conservatives' image on crime this week with a remarkable speech calling for more understanding of 'hoodies' and criticising what he calls short-term solutions to curb youth crime such as anti-social behaviour orders and curfews".

This "ground-breaking speech", we were told, would call for "more 'love' to be shown to adolescents", urging a greater focus on the family and on the social influences driving children to offend.

Cameron thus would tell a conference on social justice that politicians should be discussing causes of crime not its symptoms, saying: "The hoodie is a response to a problem, not a problem in itself. We - the people in suits - often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters".

Come the day, Monday, 10 July 2006, The Boy did deliver, telling his audience at the Social Justice Centre that:
To tackle youth crime and disorder for the long term, we will have to place real trust in the hands of the people and organisations that understand the challenges young people face, and can offer the quality of care and emotional support they need.
"I'm not pretending I've got the answers", he then said. "My job is to give a lead, not to take control".

Later defending the speech, he rejected suggestions that he wanted people to "hug a hoodie". He simply wanted "to understand what's gone wrong in these children's lives".

"I think people want their politicians to ask the question", he said, "What is it that brought that young person to commit that crime at that time? What's the background to it, what are the long-term causes of crime?" And, warming to this theme, The Boy pronounced:
If you're ill, it's no good putting a sticking plaster on it. You've got to get to the bottom of the illness. Let's try and understand what's gone wrong in these children's lives and we'll find it's about family breakdown, it's about drugs, it's about alcohol abuse, often it's young people who are brought up in care when they should be in loving homes.
Already analysing the speech was Tim Hames in the pre-paywall Times. "Mr Cameron wants his colleagues, like the hoodies, to be 'inside the boundaries' where 'we have to show a lot more love'", wrote Hames.

"Hug a hoodie" was code for "hug a modern, compassionate Conservative", so Mr Cameron's call for these much maligned characters was to be seen in a new light - not a surreal and incredible publicity stunt but "an honest act of personal empathy".

There is not much "empathy" in the Cameron camp now, though. Such as there is seems to be coming from Ed Miliband, occupying the space created by the tough-talking, scourge of the hoodies. How easy then does Cameron abandon his earlier stance, handing that territory to the now Labour opposition, pandering to the fears and populists tendencies of his faithful.

But, when a politician such as Cameron turns round so dramatically to embrace a doctrine of "escalating force", lining up an array of weapons which include rubber bullets, Tasers, pepper spray and water cannons – all to beat up on kids whom he had earlier said needed "love" - there can only be one conclusion.

This is the politics of fear. Cameron and his mob are running scared. Policy and thinking have gone out of the window. This is survival time, and the man is reverting to type ... a statist thug.