Criminal justice reforms – another step on the road to social fascism

In June Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his manifesto for the ‘reform’ of the criminal justice system. Despite lip-service to the genuine problems faced by inner-city working class communities on drug and crime-ridden estates, his words were directed at the middle classes and labour aristocracy, whom Blair describes as ‘ordinary, decent law-abiding folk...[who] think they play fair and play by the rules and they see too many people who don’t, getting away with it’.

Blair’s dishonest explanation for increased crime and alienation over the past 50 years is that, along with changed demography and a less cohesive society, ‘a more prosperous nation is a more demanding nation. Prosperity increases the opportunity for crime and makes it more lucrative’.

But it is not increased prosperity that characterises Britain under Labour, but increased inequality. Since 1997 the rich and middle class have grown better off while the poor have become poorer. In August 2005 research by the Office of National Statistics showed that the income gap between rich and poor has widened significantly under Labour.

Traditionally this situation would have resulted in at least a nod towards redistribution of wealth, usually through increased taxation of the better off. But Blair’s Labour Party has no intention of taking anything away from the ‘prosperous’; his sole aim is to attack the impoverished working class further. When he speaks of ‘rebalanc[ing]...in favour of the decent, law-abiding majority who play by the rules’, he is actually setting out plans to tilt the scales still further against those already suffering the most. The poorest and most alienated will henceforth be targeted, monitored, and punished, not just for any crime they might commit, but simply for being poor, for having children who are poor, or for being addicted to drugs. This is fascism.

Blair’s concrete plans break down into four sections:
1. More laws. The power to arrest and bring immediately to court anyone who breaks an undertaking to have treatment for drug addiction. Swifter, summary powers to deal with anti-social behaviour. Changes to limits on the seizure of assets of suspects.
2. Special summary ‘community courts’, ‘anti-social behaviour courts’, ‘drug courts’ and ‘domestic violence courts’.
3. Tracking of ‘suspects and offenders’ who will be ‘given not just a sentence but an appropriate process for sorting their life out; and if they don’t, be followed up, brought back to court’. Local authorities will be allowed to use non-compliance to limit entitlement to benefits and social welfare.
4. ‘Public service reform’ – in effect, more privatisation. It also includes ‘giving the victim a right to be heard in relation to sentencing’, which is code for lynch-mob justice.
Blair makes no apologies for this programme: ‘We need far earlier intervention with some of these families, who are often socially excluded and socially dysfunctional. That may mean before they offend; and certainly before they want such intervention. But in truth, we can identify such families virtually as their children are born’.

These families are precisely those who are not benefiting from any ‘increased prosperity’. Labour has singularly failed to honour its pledge to end child poverty. In Bristol where Blair delivered this speech, 26% of children live below the poverty line. In Britain’s wealthy capital city, London, 41% of children live in poverty. But the ‘intervention’ that the government will be making in their lives is not to provide relief or assistance but simply punishment.
Nicki Jameson

FRFI 192 August / September 2006

 

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