Keir Starmer’s speech on crime and anti-social behaviour on 23 March 2023 was not a simple dis-interring of the trope ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ introduced by Blair in 1994.
With the neo-Blairites in full control of Labour Party policy, Starmer, reflecting on past criminal justice policy, chose to quote Margaret’s Thatchers notion that the ‘rule of law’ was ‘the first duty of government’. It was this notion of ‘rule of law’ that Thatcher rested upon as miners confronted the police state at the height of the miners’ strike.
As near post-colonial Britain sinks down the league table of economic inequality, a simple retread of the third-way ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ is no longer viable because the neo-liberal project that Starmer represents may have no funds for a second clause – a retread of the crumbs that were Sure Start, Connexions or the parsimonious Educational Allowance Allowance.
Instead, a Starmer government, should there be one, will focus on ‘toughness’. Tough on crime at home and, intimately connected to this in another part of the new narrative he is attempting to assemble, tough on any country attempting to dislodge the US imperium.
Making his way through the variety of law breaking and social harms that blight a society shot through with gross and growing inequality, Starmer indulges in the magical thinking of the politician seeking power: the idea that a more effective and efficient criminal justice system that deploys more police on the street will actually make for a safer society.
This argument is as old as the hills and bears no relation to reality, for reasons that are outline here.
Given recent events it seems almost perverse to mention the point that more police on the streets does not make for a safer population; it just makes for a larger criminal justice system which focuses on locking up those on the wrong end of inequality. What makes for a safer population is more and more equal societies, something that a Labour Government will not be able to deliver.
Law and Order auction
So distanced has Starmer’s Labour become from any sense of the politics of equality that despite the evidence that the criminal justice system is probably the most unequal state body that exists, barring Royalty, he calls for its expansion on the basis that Labour will restore ‘confidence’ in it.
In truth, we are now amidst a pre-election criminal justice policy auction that only the Conservatives can win – because whatever ‘centrist’ Labour can offer to win over the red wall seats it can be met with a doubling of the stakes by a Conservative Party. Unless, that is,
Labour goes full Blue on this issue ‘in the national interest’ – a phrase we are going to have to get used to Starmer using.
Tory government minister for ‘Levelling Up’ (sic) Michael Gove, given the job of counter-bidding but somewhat hampered by his previous use of cocaine, began modestly with a calls for a crackdown on the use of laughing gas, or to use the new right-wing press sobriquet, ’hippy crack’, to match Starmer’s attack on cannabis in his 23 March speech.
Most experts and practitioners from the drug field will be looking on aghast at the opening guns of a new war on drugs. Even the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs thinks criminalisation is unwarranted and will do more harm than good.
Never mind that many countries across the globe have abandoned the war strategy for more health focused or market orientated solutions, what matters for those in charge of the Second Eleven is that Labour can pose as the law and order party to triangulate the Tories out of power – no matter what harm this will cause to the working class as prison numbers will increase as a result of the ‘anti-social behaviour crackdown’.