The government has been keen to assure the public that the recent spate of murders in London are about the behaviour of “particular” people in “particular” areas.
They say the shooting dead of 15 year olds in their own homes are not indicative of “the state of the nation”.
The problem for New Labour is that the data tells us a different story. Ever since the early 1980s there has been a growing inequality in murder rates that has mirrored the growth of inequality in society.
Today, you are six times more likely to be murdered if you live in an area characterised by poverty than if you live in areas that have flourished under neoliberalism.
So how will locking teenagers up for five years for owning a firearm challenge the social inequality that is the source of this “particular” behaviour?
Instead of demonising individuals and poor communities, we should be tackling the bedrock of inequality that produces the hopelessness that drives teenagers towards gun crime.
Tony Blair probably understands this – but he has decided that the costs of globalisation will be met by those who lose out from it. The criminal justice system is being used to regulate young people from poor areas.
A recently leaked cabinet office review, titled Crime, Justice and Cohesion, boasts of “unprecedented increases in criminal justice spending”.
Spending on prisons and probation will rise “faster than that on the NHS”, it says, with Britain becoming “one of the biggest spenders in the world on public order”. It notes home office predictions that “crime will begin to rise because the rate of economic growth is slowing”.
Do not expect that New Labour will, as cabinet minister Peter Hain recently suggested, take income from the City’s square mile and give it to square miles of poverty in Peckham and Hackney.
Expect, instead, more teenagers gunned down by their peers and our prisons remaining at bursting point.
Will McMahon is acting director of the Crime and Society Foundation at King’s College London. For more go to www.crimeandsociety.org.uk