On Monday, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed to death in Munster Square in Camden. A Witness reported seeing three men ‘screaming and laughing’ as they chased him with a machete. The poor kid apparently sought refuge in a house, banging on the door and pleading for help, but his pursuers were close behind him.
A couple of days before, across town in Leyton, a police officer had been attacked with a machete after trying to stop a van. PC Stuart Outten was slashed across his head and hand but courageously resisted the attack and survived.
In Tottenham, a week before, an 89-year-old woman was reportedly raped and murdered in her home.
Of course, unless you live in a small community you will always hear about evil and nauseating crimes. To expect to live in a society without rape and murder – let alone theft and fraud – when man is a fallen species, would be terribly utopian.
But when Owen Jones goes on TV and calls crime “annoying” I think we have to remind ourselves of how appalling it can be, and especially when rates of violent crime are rising. Last year, 135 people were killed in London, the highest number since 2008. This year, almost 90 people have been killed already.
Jones grandstands about how we are ‘locking up mentally-ill poor people’. But it is also poor people who are dying, poor people who are losing relatives, poor people who are scared to leave their homes and poor people who are scared within their homes. Richer people suffer too, but at least they have better chances of avoiding crime. Poorer people have nowhere to go.
In fairness to Jones, talking about how bad crime is does nothing to stop it. He is right, in fact, that truncheon-rattling about crime can be vacuous. Boris Johnson’s fiery promotion of anti-crime measures is part of a watered-down populist program along the lines of what Jeremy Driver calls ‘hang the paedos, we love our NHS, bored of Brexit’ reformism. Polling suggests that Brits want the state to be tougher, and Boris has responded.
The problem is that being tough need not be the same as being effective. Increasing police numbers and investing in addressing crime in prisons are both welcome measures, but there is no substantive evidence that suggests that expanding police powers to stop and search will be effective. Numerous studies suggest otherwise. It makes sense electorally but practically? That demands more justification.
It is not entirely unfair for Jones to dismiss tough Tory promises as ‘clap lines’, then, but many on the left have their own complacent clichés about crime. Jones emphasises poverty and inequality, which, he claims, are its roots. There is something to it. A Home Office study from this year found that social services like mental health support are vital to curbing crime. And there is some evidence that visible expenditure – like showing off one’s fancy watch – is linked to violence.
But when someone’s answers to everything are essentially the same, one has to ask if life is that convenient. The left’s favourite economic themes are not as relevant as they insist. Inequality has been rising in Japan, for example, but violent crime, which was never common, is becoming rarer. Singapore has higher rates of inequality than Japan but lower rates of crime. A study from Eric Neumayer of the LSE found that ‘a high degree of inequality might be socially undesirable for any number of reasons, but that it causes violent crime is far from proven.’
Jones embraces his inner populist with a call to tackle crime by, er, jailing bankers. (This same cry, oddly enough, was made separately by other pro-Corbyn commentators Aaron Bastani, Grace Blakeley and Liam Young, in what has to be the biggest coincidence since the last time pro-Corbyn commentators latched onto the same quixotic talking point.)
You have to admire Jones’ chutzpah. After sneering about Conservative ‘clap lines’ he throws himself into offensively irrelevant sloganeering. Jailing bankers might be an excellent idea sometimes, but how it is relevant to stopping teenagers from being gutted escapes me.
There are no easy answers on crime, then. For the Conservatives to be effective they have to restrain their crowd-pleasing instincts to focus on what works on the streets and not just in the polling booth. But the pseudo-serious insistence on the primacy of economic factors made by some on the left presents no alternative.
Economic factors are important. But giving them supreme status is an attempt to relocate all of the blame for crime onto capitalism, and to demand authority for pre-existing policy ambitions. Jail the bankers, they cry, as in London, yet another young man bleeds.