Friday, September 01, 2006


The Crime Is Birth, The Sentence Is…

Tony Blair yesterday announced that he will clamp down on ‘problem children’ “pre-birth even.” With Mr Blair’s government having made over three thousand activities newly illegal since 1997, it was only a matter of time before officers were told to cut out the messy business of waiting for criminal activity to be committed and wait with a pair of dinky little cuffs after the midwife gives the newborn a slap. They won’t have to wait for teenagers to protest, ‘I didn’t ask to be born!’‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse, sonny.’ Has Mr Blair finally gone quite mad?

In my teens I used to enjoy listening to my Dad’s Tom Lehrer LPs, albums of satirical songs like Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, We Will All Go Together When We Go and The Masochism Tango (of which more later). Mr Lehrer gave up writing his songs in the early 1970s, after Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for bombing Cambodia; he claimed his satire was unable to compete with real life. When Mr Blair makes this sort of comment, I think I know how Mr Lehrer felt.

In an interview reminiscent of the film Minority Report, in which people are locked up for crimes they haven’t yet committed but which the authorities – it turns out unreliably (gasp) – believe they will, Mr Blair told the BBC that parents who refuse to take “advice” about children who will grow up to be a “menace to society” will face sanctions. A new meaning of the word ‘advice,’ there, invented because
there are children that are going to grow up in families that we know perfectly well are completely dysfunctional, and the kids a few years down the line are going to be a menace to society and actually a threat to themselves”
(my italics). I wish I had such a perfect and personalised knowledge of the future as Mr Blair. Perhaps it comes directly from God, as it’s certainly not come from any government department or intelligence service under him with a predictive or investigative role. Mr Blair’s blithely absolute faith in the ability of his government to predict every aspect of people’s lives and then direct them better than people can do themselves is gobsmacking. Even aside from the libertarian arguments, all the practical evidence is that the state has an abysmal record in running people’s lives, not least those of children and the most vulnerable in society, and that’s without even looking in particular at Mr Blair’s own disastrously but incompetently authoritarian record.

As Andy Mayer wrote recently, Mr Blair’s government has newly made over three thousand activities illegal since it came to power. The figure was officially 3,023 on the 18th of August, but it’s no doubt higher by now (perhaps someone should have a site with one of those pop-up counters). That’s nearly one a day, with two-thirds by unscrutinised ministerial order rather than Parliamentary debate, and exposed by Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesperson Nick Clegg as
“a frenzied approach to law-making… an obsession with controlling the minutiae of everyday life. The result? A country less free than before, and a marked erosion of the trust which should exist between the Government and the governed.”
The process is accelerating, too, with the number of new offences rising from 160 in 1998 to 346 in 2000 and 527 in 2005. There is no way even to count the astounding number of new and random ‘crimes’ invented under the ASBO, for which the burden of proof has been set at ‘gossip’. To put it all in perspective, even the Daily Mail thinks the Government’s unthinking law factory is barking. Announcing that people are a “menace to society” before they’re born is a logical end to the process, but I thought it’d be a few more years before they turned into Judge Death.

Norman Lamb, Ming Campbell’s Chief of Staff, has said of the Prime Minister’s latest swivel-eyed control freakery that
“Empty threats to pregnant mothers will do little to restore confidence in a government that has failed to tackle poverty, crime and social exclusion for the last nine years.”
After reading the debate around the ban on possessing images of ‘violent pornography’ in the last few days on the Lib Dem blogosphere, it’s a relief to find myself on the same side as Lib Dem MPs.

There have been several thoughtful and eloquent postings on the subject of the proposed ban regarding ‘violent pornography’, few on the side of Lib Dem MP Sandra Gidley, who entirely understandably takes the well-meaning position that the first response to anything nasty should be to ban it, because surely no-one could really like nasty things and imposing nice things instead is really only for their own good. I don’t take that line, in part because I just don’t like banning things and in part because I don’t think it will do any good, but almost certainly will do great harm. In particular, I found myself nodding with Gavin Whenman’s response to Sandra, with Iain Sharpe’s typically principled and considered analysis, as on obesity earlier in the week, and with Femme de Resistance on the issue of consent. Surely the issue of informed consent is absolutely crucial to this debate, and it’s why child porn is always wrong but even ‘extremely unpleasant’ adult porn is altogether different.

I heard a pathetically cowardly interview with some Government muppet advocating a ban while denying all responsibility on The World At One on Wednesday. However many times he was pressed, he couldn’t say that he agreed with a single argument behind the ban, instead constantly saying that Parliament had settled its view in 1959 – 1959! – and that they were acting on the results of consultation, in which most people had predictably said they didn’t like that sort of thing. Why not just say ‘the Daily Mail told me to do it, guv’ and have done with it? For goodness’ sake, take some responsibility when you’re making a decision about such a desperately difficult, tragic subject; surely responsibility is the crux of the issue.

These periodic moral panics about porn, film or television are a desperate need to find an excuse ‘out there’ for terrible acts, whether it’s smut, society or Satan, but it’s not smut, society or Satan that commit the crimes. Banning the possession of pornographic images defined – however it ends up being defined – as ‘violent’ is made to sound like it’s closing a ‘loophole’, but if someone is tortured or murdered, including if it should ever happen during the making of pornography, that’s very much against the law already. Will a new law against people looking at their computers stop such terrible tragedies? Unlike Mr Blair in his delusional world, I don’t know with certainty, but there’s no evidence that it will. Will it result in completely innocent and consenting people having their lives destroyed by being branded and imprisoned? It has before. As soon as I heard this, I thought of Operation Spanner and wondered why the government was going down the same road, the same expense, the same broken lives, the same cruel stupidity all over again.

The terrible crimes are already crimes; the consenting acts simply shouldn’t be. Mr Blair and every person in his government, who have all colluded with creating thousands of new crimes in an attempt to look tough but making no-one feel safer, should consider what they’re doing. Their actions, unlike many they have legislated against, are not victimless. When, as many of these ‘crimes’ do, they criminalise people for doing something to which all concerned have given their informed consent and which is no-one’s business but their own, the harm is not done by the ‘criminal’ but by Labour’s perverse, wicked and thoughtless laws.

Meanwhile, the ‘Naked Rambler’ is locked up again, at enormous expense and to no public good. Sigh.

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Surely the sentence for birth is life?

*Pause for groan*

Good post.
Thanks, Robert!

I’ve now slightly re-edited it, with a more punchily concluding paragraph and, er, putting in the italics I’d claimed to be there to emphasise Mr Blair’s divinely omniscient precognitive powers. Problem of forgetting italics don’t carry over from Word…

Charles Anglin has also written a superb post on the same topic.
"the harm is not done by the ‘criminal’ but by Labour’s perverse, wicked and thoughtless laws."

And I'd argue this diverts police resources from where they're needed most - tackling those that are causing direct, severe harm to others.
There is a Blogger for Word add-in which is supposed to allow publishing straight from Word.

I haven't tried it myself yet, but it should be better than cutting and pasting which seems to create all sorts of formatting problems in my experience.
Thanks again, Robert; I might try that.

I wonder if the government has a particular problem with sex? Perhaps it’s all their preachy, moralistic Christian Democracy-style authoritarianism, but among the thousands of things they disapprove of and waste police time on (excellent point, Gavin) because they are Very, Very Wrong, my post seems to have spotted porn, poor people’s pregnancies and S&M…

In the meantime, though John Hemming and (I spotted later) Martin Hoscik got to the story ahead of me, I seem to have started off a wave of posts in the Lib Dem blogosphere about Mr Blair’s latest, maddest schemes. Others include Jonathan Calder giving a sense of history and another of his horrifying posts about ‘Satanic abuse’, which provokes me to think of how modern British culture can only conceive of children as utterly innocent saints or abhorrent devils; plus Toby Philpott on Mr Bush and the link between deprivation and depravity, Bernie Hughes on criminalising people “who live outside the norms of society” and a roundup of the lot with what the Lib Dem leadership should be saying from Peter Black.
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