Friday, April 22, 2005

"a golden age of law and order"

Poll Pot on crime (the golden age, believe it or not, is 2005), opening with all the traditional liberal cliches.

"The universal myth of some golden age set in the imagined time just beyond what we can remember suggests the world has been in moral decline since time began."

"A vast industry of mendacity has a vested interest in scaring people witless with front-page shock, TV cops and doom-laden moral panic editorials."

"while we know how bad health used to be, attitudes towards crime are cloaked in nostalgic amnesia"

That's right. Anecdotal evidence and the official figures on health from before the NHS are gospel. Anecdotal evidence and the official figures on crime ? Well ... old people ... memories going ... mythical golden age ...

At which point let's have some anecdotal evidence to support that thesis. Sir Robert Mark describes an unruly offender in Manchester.

"One Friday night an enormous navvy pushed the head of a constable through a shop window and started quite a battle in which uniformed and plain clothes men cheerfully joined in ... it grew to quite serious proportions, stopping the traffic ... the crowd was jeering and becoming unpleasantly restive."

To Polly, "what he reveals in passing is a world where drunken riot was frequent, and sensibility about what crime is serious was very different. If a villain put a policeman's head through a window now it would be a major crime with a long sentence, not a bit of a laugh and a small fine. People hitting each other was more frequent and more acceptable than now. Yet 48% of "violent" crime reported in yesterday's figures caused no injury whatsoever. These shock-horror reports about bingeing Britain are certainly right about more booze consumed in these full-employment times, right that most violence is drunk young men hitting each other, but devoid of any historical perspective on street brawling. "

Alas I think it's Ms Pot who's devoid of any historical perspective. To anyone who spends time in city centre pubs nowadays, what's amazing about the Robert Mark story is that the crowd stand and watch the police scrapping with the offender. Today there'd be people joining in. They'd have to call out support.

Another difference is the class perspective. The labouring classes were the fighting classes who fought with the police or each other. Now violence is much more widely spread between classes.

And of course when drunk young men hit each other today, the one who hits the floor first is likely to find himself being kicked in the head. And it's not just drunk young men - innocent strangers suffer too. Maybe stories like this were common in the 1930s ?

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