Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Is Britain Civilised ?"

On 9/1/2003, Neil Clark wrote the following in the Telegraph, but the link no longer works. If anyone can find a link I'll link to the post - in the absence of which here's the whole thing.

Roy Jenkins made Britain a far less civilised country

By Neil Clark

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 09/01/2003

In his Guardian obituary of Lord Jenkins, David Marquand listed four "achievements" of his hero on which, to him, "the verdict of history seems plain". As Home Secretary, "Jenkins did more than any other person to make Britain a more civilised country to live in". As leader of the Labour Europeans, he played an "indispensable part" in taking Britain into what is now the European Union; and, as president of the European Commission, he played an "equally indispensable part' in paving the way for the single currency. Finally, by forming the SDP, and "breaking the mould" of British politics, Jenkins created New Labour.

As an Old Labour Euro-sceptic, I believe the last three "achievements" that Marquand lists were ones we could have well done without. But what of Marquand's first claim: that Jenkins made Britain a more civilised country to live in?

As an up-and-coming Labour backbencher, Jenkins had written, in the late 1950s, a tract entitled Is Britain Civilised?, in which he attacked Britain's "archaic" laws on censorship, homosexuality, divorce and abortion, as well as arguing for the abolition of capital punishment and changes to the country's "Victorian" criminal justice system.

At that time, Jenkins's "progressive" views on social reform were still in the minority in the Labour Party, dominated as it was by its socially conservative, working-class ethos. But by 1964, when Labour eventually regained power, much had changed. A group of middle-class, mainly Oxbridge-educated "intellectuals" had risen to prominence in the party and, for these "modernisers", led by Jenkins and his Oxford friend Tony Crosland, the main aim was the social, rather than the economic, transformation of Britain.

Although their views had little support among the British public at large, this group was able to push through its liberalising agenda when Jenkins became Home Secretary in 1965. Already, earlier that year, the death penalty had been suspended. Now it was full steam ahead to give support to private members' Bills to decriminalise abortion and homosexuality, relax censorship and make divorce easier.

Jenkins's impact at the Home Office did not end there. He also embarked on the most radical programme of penal reform since the Second World War. His Criminal Justice Act of 1967 said very little about the victims of crime, but plenty about the perpetrators. The Act introduced the parole system of early release of offenders serving sentences of three years or more, established the Parole Board and introduced the system of suspended sentences.

In two years, Jenkins had succeeded in transforming the criminal justice system from one whose raison d'etre had been to deter wrong-doing to one designed to be as "civilised" as possible to the criminal.

Jenkins was of course convinced that the "permissive society" was the "civilised society". In this, he - alas - got it all terribly wrong. What underpins civilised society is not permissiveness, but self-restraint, a phrase detested by libertines of both Left and Right. What Jenkins failed to see was how the freedoms he espoused would lead to the degeneration of British society and the selfish, me-first libertinism of today.

Jenkins was never a socialist, but in my view he was not much of a liberal either. Classical liberalism always understood that liberal freedom is dependent on moral self-restraint. Without it, freedom becomes licence - which itself is a threat to freedom, as it acknowledges no obligation to others. Before the Jenkins-sponsored social reforms made their impact, Britain was a country famous for the self-restraint of its people. "Letting it all out", extreme displays of emotion, and shouting and swearing in the street were all considered unacceptable. For Jenkins, the taboos that existed in 1950s Britain were intolerable. But the net result was a society remarkable for its civility.

More than 30 years on, the damaging impact of Jenkins's reforms on the society we live in is all too clear to see. One marriage in three now ends in divorce. Almost 40 per cent of children are now born out of wedlock, the highest figure in Europe. Since the 1967 Abortion Act, more than six million unborn children have been aborted.

The legalisation of homosexuality has not been the end of the chapter, but merely the beginning, with an aggressive "gay rights" lobby demanding more and more concessions. The policy of early release of prisoners has had a catastrophic effect on the safety of the general public: 14 per cent of violent criminals freed early are convicted of fresh violence within two years of their release.

As The Sunday Telegraph's Alasdair Palmer states: "Scores of men, women and children have been assaulted, raped and murdered as a result of the policy of releasing dangerous criminals before their sentences are completed" - a policy initiated and endorsed by Jenkins.

In addition to this tally, we must add the hundreds of innocent lives lost as a result of the abolition of capital punishment, which Jenkins zealously campaigned for and whose reintroduction he so resolutely opposed as Home Secretary in 1974.

Dividing his time between the palaces of Westminster, the delightful Oxfordshire village of East Hendred and the high table of the Oxford colleges, Jenkins did not, of course, see too much of the social debris that his "civilising" reforms had caused. Had he seen at first hand what the "permissive society" amounts to in practice on a "sink" council estate, he might have modified his views.

It is, though, unfair to blame one man for all of Britain's modern ills. Others, too, must take their share of responsibility for the nation we have become, not least the economic freedom junkies of the 1980s. Nevertheless, the Britain of 2003 is very much the Britain that Jenkins always wanted. The self-restraint and taboos of the 1950s have all gone. The "archaic" laws against which Jenkins railed have been abolished.

On the day of Jenkins's death, I looked at the other stories listed on the Teletext index. They were: "Man accused of bodies-in-bin probe", "Gun killers will be caught, pledge police", "Man faces charges over abbey axe attack", "Man charged with taxi driver murder" and "Freedom for hostage in 11-day siege".

If David Marquand believes the Britain of 2003 to be a "civilised country", it would be interesting to hear his definition of an uncivilised one.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Laban. Or rather, thanks for nothing, as I find this kind of stuff depressing. But every day the unfolding story of Modern Britain, one act of brutality following another state attack on the common good, just makes existing here quite depressing. And now we are bankrupt. So what harm can a bit more do?

However, this article does outline the wicked, malevolent, destructive individual that Roy Jenkins was. I've just had to delete a paragraph of this post because my true feelings about this individual and the cadre of cretins to which he belonged are unprintable.

But of course, he was elected. Never forget that. Democracy delivered up all these things. Democracy has, so far, failed to rectify them, failed to undo them.

Yes, most of it went through on WMD style lies. Abortion was only for medical emergencies. Homosexuality was only legalised so that people ravaged by the diseases caused by promiscuous sodomy could be treated without being criminalised. We were only joining a trading bloc with our European neighbours. We would only have necessary levels of immigration. Contraception would only be for married women - it wouldn't fuel promiscuity. Divorce reform wouldn't lead to an increase in broken families. Welfare would only be for those that needed it.

Yes, the whole thing was built on lies, lies, lies and more lies, but that became obvious years ago and we haven't done anything about it. We haven't voted for people who will fix it.

We can't keep blaming the politicians. This is our bed. We all have to sleep in it.

Anonymous said...

Of the so-called "liberal reforms" of the 60s, the only one that was unambiguously liberal and a Good Thing was the decriminalising of male homosexual acts. Otherwise, we can blame the Forces of Progress for an awful lot of damage - the deliberate buggering up of the schools being the single greatest act of cultural vandalism in our history.

Anonymous said...

In a similar vein...

January 8, 2003
Was it so urbane to create this urban hell, Roy?
By Theodore Dalrymple
Roy Jenkins was a decent and civilised man: amiable, erudite, a considerable prose stylist, a historian, a bon viveur, witty, urbane and cultivated. He did incalculable harm to his country.

David Williams

paul ilc said...

I'm not sure, dearieme, that decriminalising sodomy was an "unambiguously...Good Thing". I'd prefer to see it as the lesser of two evils.

Hugh Oxford: well put; but Britain is not bankrupt - at least not yet, though Brown might achieve it. There are some positive straws in the wind...Warren Buffett and Anthony Bolton think that shares have reached the bottom and are buying (as am I), and the UK will probably emerge from the maelstrom sooner than euroland with its inflexibilities.

Anonymous said...

Try this link:

Anonymous said...

Paul, I reckon that even just "the lesser of two evils" is a Good Thing. After all, the lesser of two evils is about the best you can hope for on so many issues. And I really can't see the likelihood of much good coming from criminalising what two adult males get up to in private.

Martin said...


Don't start me on Jenkins. I have the distinction of having been represented by both him and George Galloway.

Anonymous said...

Clark may be an odd sort at times but I'm with him more or less all the way here. Especially regarding the older, socially conservative and patriotic traditions of the Labour party of another age.

Anonymous said...

who you calling civilised, cunt!

paul ilc said...

Dearieme -

Yes, the lesser of two evils can be a good thing, but it cannot be an "unambiguously" good thing (as it then couldn't be the lesser of two evils).

And, yes, no good ever came from extending the law into the bedrooms of consenting adults. The law should never have existed. However, the removal of the legal constraints on sodomy did unfortunately unleash and encourage the tiresome and destructive frenzy of 'sexual identity politics'.

Once, as neighbours, I had two men who lived together. Both ex-army (one highly decorated) and very civilised and literate, everyone knew they were sodomites but no-one cared. They went to church, joined Remembrance Day parades, particpated in community life, looked after their nephews and nieces, and took their holidays in Crete, North Africa, France and Italy visiting the graves of fallen comrades. They were not interested in 'gayness'; they just wanted to live decent and respectable lives. I fear we shall not see their like again.

Anonymous said...

Are there several Neil Clark's or is this the same Tanker who defends East European communism, denies the Srebrenica massacre and provides fodder for Oliver Kamm?

Anonymous said...

TDK, it's the same one. Neil Clark's political positions are basically motivated by nostalgia for the 1970s which leads him to both sensible and stupid positions. His affection for Yugoslavia seems to stem from it being a bit like 1970s Britain.