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Well worth the license fee

Mark Easton at the BBC has a superb piece that’s saved me the effort of doing my normal thing (dammit!) – he’s looked at the actual statistics and discovered that knife crime is up slightly in some ropey bits of London, and not at all elsewhere.

A very sensible point that Mr Easton makes, as also made coherently and provocatively by Dave Osler at Liberal Conspiracy, is that the massive and deranged overhyping of the non-event that is knife crime is only going to encourage kids to carry knives, because they’ll be a) worried that they’ll get knived and b) keen to stick it to the patronising idiots who think that knife-carrying is The Worst Thing Ever.

Unsurprisingly, David Cameron’s take on the whole issue is to demand that anyone found carrying a knife should be jailed with no exceptions. I’m sure that the picnic-goers and sausage-cutters of the world will be reassured by that one…

(and yes, Mr Cameron suggests the police should ‘use discretion’ in deciding who to prosecute. This is not the way the law works, and not the way the law should work – if something is a crime, then everyone who does it should be prosecuted; if it is not, then no-one who does it should be prosecuted. The police’s job is to enforce the law, not to decide when to enforce it and when to ignore it.)

Meanwhile, in a sane parallel universe somewhere, the only worry people have about crime is why we waste so much time and so many lives on sending people to jail, when [pointed hyperbole] crime is completely trivial and not-worth-bothering-with [/pointed hyperbole]. Unfortunately, on this earth people don’t understand statistics but do understand emotivised tabloid nonsense… roll on the teleporter.

Update: Ajay’s comment at S&M makes sense; and these statistics are telling.

Categories: Bit of politics
  1. diogenes
    July 8, 2008 at 10:43 pm | #1

    (and yes, Mr Cameron suggests the police should ‘use discretion’ in deciding who to prosecute. This is not the way the law works, and not the way the law should work

    John, this is the way the law used to work. If the bobby on the beat saw someone misbehaving, he didn't always haul him off to the station and start filling in forms, he could use his discretion and give the person a stern ticking off or take him back to the parental house for a anaming and shaming. It is a new frame of mind that means that motorists are always punished for exceeding speed-limits irrespective of circumstances. For example, to travel at 40 mph in a 30mph zone at a time of day when there are no pedestrians is a technical offence which does no actual harm to society.

  2. July 9, 2008 at 12:07 am | #2

    The last paragraph of this post is the stupidest thing I've read from a supposedly intelligent blogger in quite a while. Did you really mean to say that?

  3. July 9, 2008 at 12:34 am | #3

    I've now added "pointed hyperbole" tags for the ease of the casual reader.

    But yes, I genuinely believe that, given the negligible impact that crime (rather than the irrational fear of crime) has on most people's lives, the human waste (and, less importantly, the money waste) on imprisoning people and writing them off as members of society is totally ridiculous.

  4. July 9, 2008 at 1:45 am | #4

    John, that blog post contains the following: "injuries from stabbings have gone up in England – particularly in London." and in an update adds: "By my calculations, knife crime has risen three times faster in London over the past five years than the rest of England. This, I think, demonstrates how the situation in the capital has driven the claims of an epidemic."

    Your post gives no hint of that. Surely dead children are too high a price to pay for studied political complacency in support of the government of one's choice? This isn't the first time I've picked up this kind of omission in your posts.

  5. July 9, 2008 at 9:23 pm | #5

    As the man says:

    It wouldn't matter if exaggerating the scale of the problem didn't make it more likely youngsters will seek to protect themselves with knives and the wider population will needlessly worry about what is a tiny risk for all but a few.

    More generally, my 'studied complacency' isn't in support of the government of my choice (if you think the current NHS-money-squandering, 42-days-interning, porn-banning, cannabis-upgrading, Iraq-war-supporting, Daily-Mail-appeasing lot would be the government of my choice, you really haven't been paying attention).

    If it exists, which I'd question, it's in support of the general principle that most public concerns (crime, the economy, immigration, terrorism) are far less severe than they appear, and that we'd do far better in terms of aggregate public happiness if we worried about them less.

    Ultimately, even if making the public believe there was a terrible knife crime epidemic did save a few lives rather than making things worse (let's say it halved the annual rate of teen knife murder, saving about 15 lives), the harm done by making everyone believe things were unspeakably awful (hence scared to go out, spending on steel doors and stab-proof vests, avoiding living in cities or having kids) would be far greater than the good done by saving those lives.

    And if you don't think it's reasonable to trade off quality-of-life for a large group against life-and-death for a few individuals, you probably shouldn't be allowed to vote…

  6. July 10, 2008 at 4:07 am | #6

    Thank you, Mr. Band, you have anticipated my request for another of your soothing essays in which my increasing worries can be calmed and stilled even as, night after night, Sky News (I mean, what's wrong with shooting the messenger?) keeps telling me of the death of more and more children from stabbings. Nothing to worry about, as you assure us all in that kindly, avuncular Dr. Finlay (don't ask!) tone of voice.

    You should send a copy to Mrs. Newlove, it'll be such a comfort, I'm sure.

  7. July 11, 2008 at 9:43 pm | #7

    Duff – it doesn't matter in the slightest if 20 or even 40 kids a year die in stabbings; that's still so few that no individual kid has a serious chance of dying in a stabbing.

    (in fact, you only have a serious chance of dying in a stabbing if you're a thug who starts a knife fight with another thug…)

    I'd be delighted to send a copy to Mrs Newlove, on the grounds that at the very least it would annoy the poisonous harpy a bit…

  8. Ethan
    July 11, 2008 at 10:47 pm | #8

    Would you describe a woman being killed as a result of domestic violence as a 'non-event'? Or rape? Or the death of Stephen Lawrence? I would hate to think you have wildly opposed sets of standards for crimes deemed appropriate objects of left-wing concern and those you consider right-wing territory.

    Personally I think it's sick to describe any murder, even if it was the only in the country over the course of the whole year, as a 'non-event'.

    Your idea of the 'negligible impact of crime' is utterly bizarre. Why don't you go and speak to actual victims of serious crime and tell them that the crime has had a 'negligible effect' on their lives. Or do you think things only matter if they have a devastating impact on the lives of everyone in society 'en masse'. If that's the case, then most of what we argue about in politics (including left-wing issues) is worth bothering about.

    Also, the murders that make it into the news are generally the peaks of the iceburg of much more frequent low-level violence and 'anti-social behaviour'. But if you think murders are 'non-events' then I suppose you think muggings, assaults and harassment are childsplay.

  9. July 11, 2008 at 11:10 pm | #9

    Look, I'm talking in policymaking terms not "how should individual criminals be treated" terms here. Obviously when someone gets murdered that's a tragedy for them and their family, the murderer should be locked up for a long time, and both of these would be true even if they were the only person in the UK to be murdered. But if there were only one person murdered in the UK each year, then worrying about the impact of murder on a policy level would be gibberingly insane.

    I don't like the elevation of the Lawrence murder to totem status either – the important thing about that one from a policy perspective is not that some thugs killed a kid, but that the police investigated it badly because he was black, leading to the Macpherson report and some positive steps in making the police be less racist going forward.

    To be honest, as someone who's been mugged, burgled and assaulted-occasioning-ABH before now (on separate occasions, to forestall any comedians), I'm quite happy to state that all of these things have had a negligible effect on my life, beyond small amounts of pain or trauma and a day's worth of hassle sorting things out.

    But I guess the only Victims Of Crime who get to have their opinions taken into account are the ones who advocate Hanging and Flogging, not the ones who point out that on a lot of occasions even crimes classed as serious (robbery, domestic burglary and ABH are certainly considered serious) are still mostly trivial and not worth getting too worked up about.

  1. July 11, 2008 at 2:57 am | #1
  2. July 11, 2008 at 11:41 am | #2
  3. July 17, 2008 at 5:05 pm | #3

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