Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Do Conservatives Govern trough Crime? Sometimes

Current European politics offers an interesting window into the relationship between party ideology and the attractions of governing through crime. As noted last month, Britain's Conservative led coalition government is in the midst of retrenching on the previous Labour government's embrace of tough on crime policies and politics. The latest and most dramatic move came last week, when the government announced it would move away from the much debated Anti-Social Behavioral Orders (or ASBOs as they were not quite affectionately called). One of New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair's signature governing through crime strategies, ASBOs allowed anything that caused some people to fear others to be prohibited on pain of arrest. The announcement that ASBOs would be replaced with new approaches emphasizing restorative justice rather than punishment brought predictable howls from former New Labour ministers. According to a story by Alan Travis in last week's Guardian (read it here):

Two former Labour home secretaries, Alan Johnson and David Blunkett, attacked May's decision. Johnson, in a piece for the Guardian's Comment is Free, argued that asbos had made a huge difference in cutting crime and disorder: "If the home secretary is to restrict the opportunities for the police to use asbos and other measures currently available then this will be yet another example of this government going soft on crime." Blunkett went even further and claimed May's speech posed "a major threat to the lives of those at the very sharp end of criminality and dysfunctional communities".

Meanwhile, across the channel, conservative French President, Nikolas Sarkozy, defended his police after much criticism over rough handling of women and children during an eviction of members of the Roma minority from a squat. According to Lizzy Davies in the Guardian (read it here) the French President promised a "national war on crime":

In a bellicose speech in the south-eastern city of Grenoble on Friday, the president said he would wage a "real national war" on crime, announcing plans to revoke the French citizenship of anyone "of foreign origin" who threatened the life of a police officer.

Implying a clear link between France's levels of immigration and its crime, Sarkozy said: "We are suffering the consequences of 50 years of insufficiently regulated immigration, which have led to a failure of integration."

The lesson for me, at any rate, is that governing through crime is not a product of conservative ascension or Neoliberalism per se (the British coalition is much more Neoliberal than Sarkozy), but a recourse that politicians of all ideological stripes find tempting at a time when efforts to govern through economic and social policy are prone to numerous obstacles.

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