Socialist Worker

After he plays the race card

Issue No. 1698

After he plays the race card

Hague's lies on 'law and order'

TORY LEADER William Hague's latest crude attempt to recover his party's fortunes has been to bang the "law and order" drum. He told the baying mob at the Police Federation conference in Brighton last week that the "liberal establishment" has been soft on criminals. He said he wanted changes in the law to increase prison sentences, and to stuff even more people in prison.

He painted a picture of a "tide of rising disorder and lawlessness" in the same way as he talked of "tides" of "bogus" asylum seekers. The right wing Police Federation loved Hague's talk. London Police Federation chief Glen Smyth said, "Hague's speech was a sparkling performance."

But Hague is telling lies and presenting a false solution. There is not "tide" of crime. Locking up more people will not reduce crime. It will increase it. England and Wales already lock up more people per head of the population than China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. These countries are not exactly known for their "liberal" policies.

Portugal is the only country in Western Europe to jail more people. The last Tory government, going against all expert advice, declared that "prison works". This led to a massive increase in the prison population in England and Wales, from 40,000 in 1992 to 60,000 by March 1997.

New Labour home secretary Jack Straw has continued the Tories' "tough" policies. The prison population in England and Wales now stands at a record 65,000. If present government policies continue we could see 92,600 inmates behind bars by 2005. Even former Tory home secretary Douglas Hurd attacked Hague's rant. Hurd said it was "frivolous" to talk about jailing more people without acknowledging present overcrowding.

He said Hague's plan to shift the law on self defence, to protect property owners who take the law into their own hands in the wake of the Tony Martin case, made him "anxious". Just as over asylum seekers, Jack Straw is to blame for opening the door to Hague's "law and order" pitch.

He has carried on the right wing penal policies constructed by his hated Tory predecessor Michael Howard. Straw has told the public that "prison works" and that "get tough policies" are needed.

He has taken every opportunity to launch Tory-style attacks on "liberal" lawyers and commentators. Indeed, Straw's response to Hague's rant was to say that Hague's call for upping "lenient" sentences was in the 1997 Labour manifesto. And Straw even attacked the Tories for opposing New Labour's get tough policy!


Is crime on rise?

THERE IS no "explosion" of crime. In the 12 months ending September 1999 police in England and Wales recorded an increase of 2.2 percent in crime. Hague seized on the fact that violent crime went up 6 percent. But this adds up to an extra 39,000 incidents over the previous year-not a huge amount given the population size.

And in 1998 New Labour changed the way crime figures were compiled. The category of "violence against the person", for example, has been widened to include crimes such as cruelty to or neglect of children. This has upped the violent crime figures. The rise in burglaries is not down to a rise in "lawlessness".

Home Office criminologists say this is partly to do with an increase in personal consumer spending-in other words, there is more to steal. It is also connected to the increase in the numbers of men aged under 24, due to the 1980s "baby boom". This is the category of people most likely to commit crime.


The American way

WILLIAM HAGUE wants to go down the "American road".

  • Today two million Americans are in prison, a 300 percent increase since 1980.
  • In several US cities, one third of all young black men are either in jail, on probation or awaiting trial.
  • In California spending on prisons is more than that for higher education.
  • There are now over half a million people working in the US prison industry, second only to the number of workers employed by General Motors.

"This farcical package from the Conservatives will cost nearly �500 million a year to administer and more than �1 billion to actually build the new institutions."

  • HARRY FLETCHER, National Association of Probation Officers

THERE IS no evidence that locking up even more people will bring down crime. The record increase in the prison population has not affected the crime figures. Crime goes up and down alongside employment and poverty figures. If people are in jobs and have a level of wealth they do not feel the need to steal.

The truth is we have TOO MANY people in prison. There are thousands of people locked up who are clearly not meant to be in prison. Only one in four people locked up have committed offences involving robbery, violence, sex or drugs.

Around 20 percent of those in jail are on remand, awaiting trial or sentence. Some 60 percent of them will spend months in jail, but will then be found innocent or given non-jail sentences. It costs upwards of �60 million to build a prison. A new primary school costs �1.5 million.

It costs around about �25,000 a year to keep someone locked in jail. That money could be spent on social provisions which would help reduce crime. Even former head of the prison service Richard Tilt says that putting more people in prison "is a very expensive programme. People ought to question whether that is the best way to spend money".

Prison does not work. Some 90 percent of those under 18 who are locked up in young offenders institutions reoffend. The 1993 figures show that 53 percent of all those jailed were back in trouble within two years.

By contrast, a survey by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO) found that where young criminals are helped with housing, training and support only 20 percent reoffended. The explosion in the prison population has meant more inmates sharing cells designed for one, the cutting of "rehabilitation" programmes, and more harsh discipline.

Overcrowding is also leading to more prison assaults, such as the case of Zahid Mubarek who was murdered by a racist in Feltham Young Offenders Institution. Zahid had been inside for a petty offence. Prison also acts as a "university of crime". People who go inside for minor offences are brutalised.

They come put of prison destitute, often having lost their home and family ties, and are tarred as unemployable. All this drives people to commit more crimes. Jack Straw's plan to cut benefits from people who breach community punishments will make things worse. Not only will this punish the offenders' families and children, it will also make people MORE likely to reoffend as they are forced into crime to survive.


Invitation to police racism

WILLIAM Hague told the Police Federation, "We need less political correctness. We need more PCs and less PC." Hague's attack on what he called "political correctness" was a thinly veiled invitation to the police to carry on being racist towards black people.

Hague was telling the Police Federation, which needs no encouragement, that it should ignore the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Hague wants the police to carry on their racist stop and search of black people. His words mean more black people, like Roger Sylvester in north London and Christopher Alder in Hull, will die violent deaths in police custody.

He wants a repeat of the racism handed out to the families of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel. Hague's racism will see more black people criminalised by the "justice" system.


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Sat 27 May 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1698
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