Police, the Law and Community Order

By Mike Goodman

There has been much reaction both in the mainstream and on social media recently about alarming increases in levels of violent crime and especially about the number of murders in London, reportedly 50 so far this year as at 8th April.

There has been wave upon wave of predictable reaction. The Home Secretary told us first that falling police numbers could not be to blame then turned on social media as the probable culprit. Twitter and WhatsApp appear to be the main recipients of her approbrium. Most of the comment from the left blames the government for cutting the numbers of policemen. The right is attempting to put the blame on the Labour Mayor of London, saying policing of the Capital is entirely his responsibility – a disingenuous critique at best, since the crime increase is national. But then, what would we expect?

Now, is this really a law and order issue?

On the face of it, perhaps. But what else is happening in society? Could other events lead us to reach different conclusions? We have lived under Neoliberalism to varying, albeit consistently brutal, extent for forty years now. The Conservatives, especially, have ripped the heart out of all public services, not just police and court services. All public services? Well, this is getting complicated.

Perhaps, then, we should take a step back in time to try and work out what makes us tick. We don’t have to go too far back to reach the end of feudalism. Mass urbanisation began as mechanisation of the wool and cotton industries in particular which, powered by the new steam engine, enabled production at scale. Canal building enabled movements of these goods in bulk and mechanisation on the farm freed up the necessary labour resources to move into towns and provide workers for the mills.

What made us what we are?

Prior to that Britain was administered under a system we call feudalism. The heirarchy and ownership structure is irrelevant to this paper. Nor is this an attempt to infer that all was sweetness and light in society. What is pertinent is the fact that people at that time lived in groups and worked together in groups. Collaboration was seminal. Each group served all three functions of living, working, and organization – and the same set of people were responsible for these distinct functions.

Through various stages of development until and including feudalism, that had been the way of life for most of humanity for thousands of years, since hunting waned and farming began in earnest. Many academics working in fields such as paleoanthropology and anthropology tell us we developed our collaborative and caring skills way back in our hunter period[1].

A couple of points to note from that long epoch of our history. In spite of times often being difficult, the incidences of crime and mental illness were significantly lower then than they are today, even in proportion to population sizes. The reasons are not easy to pinpoint. We suspect, rather than know, that various influences began to interact, affecting our behaviour post-urbanisation, with contributing factors being both a more tiered organisation of labour and a continuing separation of work from community into modern times.

What changed us?

As the poor and the less mobile are forced to settle in the most densely populated parts of towns and cities, the organic, informal support systems available in earlier societal structures break down and have to be replaced by more centrally planned, organised and, of course, funded operations. They include provision for housing, child care, health care, education, training, some level of income underpinning, youth activites, recreation facilities, care of the elderly and the disabled, rehabilitation, policing and court systems. In short, the whole raft of services which help maintain social cohesion and which may include specialist services whether usually provided by the statutory or the voluntary sector.

All of these support mechanisms are interdependent. If the nursery closes down the young mother has less time to tend her ageing parent. A working parent suffering illness or accident places stress on the whole family unit. So we can begin to build a picture of what happens when government, through necessity or through sheer political dogma, withdraws support and several of these mechanisms collapse.

Very rapidly teachers become under resourced and overstretched, as do health professionals. Youth clubs and resources for the elderly are closed down. Families come under extreme pressure, nerves at breaking point and violence erupts. Youth has nowhere to go so wanders the streets, afraid of strangers hence grouping with those they know. Older youths, incentivised by criminal elements, take control. Violence and crime ensue. Adults feel helpless, useless. Alcohol and drugs enter the scene. Abuse and addiction occur, accompanied by violence and more crime.

Erosion of regulations covering work, pay and workers’ rights have furhter exacerbated the financial and general well being of poorer and not so poor, with erosion of real incomes over time.

This is not about London alone. Each of these patterns is being mirrored throughout the country, in our major cities, in smaller towns and even among rural communities.

Conclusion

We are right to complain when our law enforcement resources are depleted. Even with all of them restored, which we have a full democratic right to expect, we shall still have criminals and issues of order which fall within the remit of the police, probationary and court systems. Society will not function coherently without them.

But the law and its enforcement cannot possibly take the place of, nor can it restore, those other depleted or missing services. We need them restored as deliberate acts of government. Society will not function coherently without them any more than it will without law and order. Many of the current problems, extremely expensive to deal with once evident, will fade once they are restored. Crime included.

The economic argument of “we cannot afford it” simply does not wash. The lie is illustrated by them buying in of services which are already provided at lower cost and at a higher standard within the public sector.

The only possible justification is political dogma. It is led by the utterly neurotic idea that anything done by government must be less efficient, contrary to all of the available evidence, and that it will automatically lead to some form of totalitarianism. This insane ideology is itself totalitarian. It was not in any manifesto and is contrary to any form of democracy. Indeed it denies democracy. Feudalism restored.

No government with its own floating currency and central bank is so restricted in the amount of money it can spend that it cannot provide adequate public services to its citizens. It has a monopoly on producing its own currency and can buy as much of whatever it needs that is available for purchase in that currency. Our public services are, obviously, available. We need them restored to good order and to the public sector by the people who deliberately damaged and removed them. Now.

[1] See, for instance, this page on the BBC web site

Author: Mike Goodman

Mike's main intersts are in economic policy, politics and current affairs. He has a degree in economics. He is retired now but still makes himself available occasionally for interesting speaking or training engagements. Leisure interests include rugby (the union code), cricket, music (especially modern to contemporary jazz), food, wine, good company or a good book.

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