Against the backdrop of apparently endless economic gloom, the terrible news that three men who raped and disfigured a disabled girl were given appallingly short prison sentences has been forced out of the headlines. What a forceful reminder that we must not allow the economic imperative to displace concentration on the cruel effects of social disintegration!
The deadening weight of economic bad news, perhaps understandably, encourages the political class to focus solely on it’s causes and consequences. Yet the shape and form of the economic crisis are inseperable from the brutal characteristics of modernity. And for the most disadvantaged Britons the fear and reality of crime damages lives and scars communities. As recent research from the Centre for Social Justice suggests: “Britain is witnessing a growth in an underclass whose lifestyles affect everyone”1
Throughout the country, economic woe is bound to crime and disorder. In many urban pockets a nascent criminal class is emerging, ignorant of human dignity and careless of life. A class that consistently produces the pain of disorder. The emergent narrative of each tragic story is of the absence of individual and communal responsibility; of broken estates wrecked by economic decline and purposelessness slowly descending into hopelessness. At the heart of Conservatism is an understanding that the responsible limits on feckless liberty are essential components of a civilized society. As David Cameron said in his superb conference speech, “freedom can too easily turn into the idea that we all have the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the effect on others. That is libertarian, not Conservative – and it is certainly not me. For me, the most important word is responsibility….and we know that we will only be a strong society if we are a responsible society.”
A civilised society is not defined by men’s capacity to do as they will (which we share with the apes), but by their willingness to do as they ought. It is not “can do” but “should do” that counts.
Tony Blair once promised to be tough on crime and its causes; but his party’s government deflects the devastating failure on both fronts with a deluge of spin. Jacqui Smith boasted in 2008 about their “success” in cutting crime…and tackling youth crime. Yet a recent Ministry of Justice/DCSF report fatally undermines her argument, concluding that Labour’s 10 year strategy for tackling youth crime has failed. It revealed that around 25% of under-18s have committed an offence, while re-offending rates are ‘very high and have not significantly changed’ since 1997. It is clear that Labour’s 37 criminal justice acts have had little or no effect and that Jacqui Smith doesn’t know it.
In these trying times, our compassion must extend to each and every citizen living on the front line of disorder; that means ensuring that bad news on crime is not buried, and it means articulating our appreciation that the tapestry of the “good life” extends far beyond the pursuit and gratification of material self interest. For Conservatives understand that what we share and do together matters most.
1. Ian Duncan Smith, The Daily Telegraph, 6th December 2008