Newlove: Experience an advantage?

By Dave Woodhall.

I’ve been reading this morning about Baroness Newlove and her review on how to tackle petty crime and anti-social behaviour.

Baroness Newlove was made a peer last year, and is the Government’s ‘communities champion,’ whatever that may mean. Her qualifications for a peerage and subsequent role in government are that her husband was murdered by a gang outside the family home in 2007.

Now, I don’t want to make light of what was, and is, a dreadful crime, but I’m very uneasy about this sort of what I can only describe as government by populism. The Newlove review is very big on getting people involved in their communities. There are calls for citizens to be allowed to set their own speed limits and even given cameras to help catch offending motorists. There would be council tax rebates for those taking part in “making their neighbourhoods safe,” an information hub offering rewards for community activists and a scheme whereby the assets of convicted drug dealers are ploughed back into communities whose actions led to the dealers’ convictions. It’s all very laudable in theory, but in practice isn’t that what we have a police force for? Isn’t it symptomatic of the materialist society which has led to many of these crimes that their detection has to come complete with financial reward?

I have great sympathy for Baroness Newlove. I’m sure that in similar circumstances I would want the culprits caught and punished very painfully. But that’s not the type of justice system we have in Britain – however much bar-room philosophers and the tabloids would like to see its introduction. Similarly, being a victim does not make you an expert on crime and it certainly doesn’t entitle you to a place in government. Someone of the Baroness’s experience undoubtedly has a part to play in any review on crime and anti-social behaviour, but as a witness rather than as judge and jury. As a result, her lack of objectivity is only too obvious in this review. Handing over speed cameras to concerned citizens and knocking a few quid off their council tax if they can point the finger at miscreants may look good in a ‘soundbite’ and I have no doubt it’s the stuff of which salivating Daily Mail editorials are made but, just to point out the most obvious flaw, I can see it leading to a two-tier form of policing.

Take two neighbouring streets. One comprises owner-occupied semis, the other predominantly flats and elderly residents living in rented properties. Residents of the latter are more likely to be transient, with no real interest in the community of which they are temporarily a part, or else unable to participate in this form of cut-price, vigilante-driven policing. They are therefore less likely to see the benefits of any recommendations which may be implemented in the light of the Newlove review. They may be subject to increased and unwarranted surveillance from their wealthier neighbours, eager to report any suspicious behaviour and earn themselves a few quid. The better off are rewarded, the worse off are victimised. The causes of crime are ignored, or even exacerbated by this increased polarisation of society.

The whole thing smacks to me of seeing one side of a problem; of reaching out to the ‘nice’ people willing and able to get involved in their own community, of giving them whatever they want and wrapping it all up in that catch-all phrase ‘common sense’ –  regardless of the consequences to the rest of us.

That’s what happens when you hand the job of forming government policy to those who are well-meaning, but have little knowledge of anything outside their own experience.