Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Blair's criminal justice reforms - another step on the road to social fascism

The following first appeared in the Newspaper "Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!"

By: Nicki Jameson

On 23 June Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair made a speech in Bristol, setting out his manifesto for the "reform" of the criminal justice system. Thinly disguised as a call for a 'considered intellectual and political debate about the nature of liberty in the modern world', the speech set out the Labour Party's plans for policing Britain in the interests of capitalism in the next period. While, as in all such speeches, Blair paid lip-service to the genuine problems faced by inner-city working class communities on drug and crime-ridden estates, his words were squarely directed at the middle classes and labour aristocracy, who 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.'

Although the speech was peppered with attacks on immigrants and would-be terrorists, and on courts and judges that have upheld their rights not to be deported or tortured, the main target was the impoverished native working class. Blair's explanation for increased crime and alienation over the past 50 years is that along with changed demography and a less cohesive society (more social mobility, migration, divorce, employment of women, less "deference" etc) 'a more prosperous nation is a more demanding nation. Prosperity increases the opportunity for crime and makes it more lucrative.'

In this deliberately dishonest take on the world, everything can be easily explained: 'Prosperity means most people have something worth stealing. Drugs means more people are prepared to steal. Organised crime which trafficks in drugs and people make money. Violence, often of a qualitatively as well as quantitatively different sort than anything before, accompanies it. Then there is the advent of this new phenomenon of global terrorism based on a perversion of Islam.'

But the truth is that 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 government's own 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 the smallest thing away from the "prosperous"; his sole aim is to attack the impoverished working class still further. When he speaks of 'rebalanc[ing] favour of the decent, law-abiding majority who play by the rules and think others should too' he is actually setting out plans to tilt the scales still further against those already suffering the most. The people who are the poorest and most alienated will henceforth be targeted, monitored, and punished not just as a result of crime they might be driven to commit, but simply for existing, 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. A 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. New systems 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'. If you don't follow orders, you can not only be imprisoned - but also starved or made homeless, as local authorities will be allowed to take compliance into account when deciding on entitlement to benefits and social welfare.
  4. "Public service reform - this is described as 'Capturing and disseminating best practice; using different and new the management of offenders'. In effect it means more privatisation. It also includes 'giving the victim a right to be heard in relation to sentencing', which is code for lynch-mob justice, as victims who ask for leniency do not make headlines.
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.'

The children and families Blair wants to label as deviant from birth are precisely those who are not benefiting from the 'increased prosperity' he harps on about. Labour pledged when it came to power that it would end child poverty and has singularly failed to do so. 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

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
BCM BOX 5909

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