Magazine article The Spectator

'You Can Do Something about Crime. You Can Control It'

Magazine article The Spectator

'You Can Do Something about Crime. You Can Control It'

Article excerpt

It was as if the two men had suddenly burst out of nowhere. 'You're coming with us, ' one of them growled as they pounced on Caroline, grabbing her by the arms and starting to drag her down a dark side alley. It was the early hours of Saturday morning in central Durham, about a mile from the cathedral, a part of the city which is never deserted; so my friend, a 22-yearold medical student, lashed out screaming and kicking as hard as she could. For a split second, the kidnappers hesitated, allowing her to break free and run for her life.

But Caroline's nightmare was soon compounded by the almost surreal ineffectiveness of the authorities. Durham City police station, which used to open around the clock, was closed, the manned presence replaced by an intercom. Despite repeated promises, officers never came to see her, blaming overwork. It took 14 hours and five phone calls before Caroline was finally granted an 'incident number'; her ordeal may not even be recorded as part of the government's crime figures, buttressing the laughable claim that crime is under control in Tony Blair's Britain. One police operator informed Caroline that her attack wasn't 'a violent incident'; nobody seemed to care that two dangerous maniacs were still on the prowl in central Durham.

When I was told of Caroline's brush with disaster last weekend, I was reminded of Irving Kristol's famous line that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. But then I realised that in today's angry, crime-ridden Britain, where many of us have friends or loved ones who have been mercilessly robbed or assaulted, a conservative is simply anyone who -- perhaps against his better instincts -- cheers on Clint Eastwood when, in his role as the rogue San Francisco cop Dirty Harry in those old 1970s movies, he ruthlessly hunts down and takes out criminals.

Those who take the Dirty Harry test with friends and family will soon discover that even many members of the smoothie-drinking, environmentally conscious, public-sector classes are unable to resist the charms of Harry Callahan and his Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. In an otherwise increasingly liberal Britain, attitudes to crime are one of the few areas where traditional values have largely survived the culture wars; however, love for the bobby on the beat of yore has been replaced by a quiet rage against politically correct or incompetent police forces, judges and politicians.

Mr Blair and his new Home Secretary, John Reid, are well aware of this -- more so than those Tories disdainful of popular support for a publicly accessible register of convicted child sex offenders. Indeed, even hardliners like David Davis are more cautious than the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary about the so-called Sarah's law, modelled on America's Megan's law. It helps to explain why Mr Blair chose to call more forcefully than ever for a shift in emphasis from the rights of the criminal to the rights of the victim in an important speech in Bristol, and why Mr Reid has attacked judges and his own officials and belatedly banned paedophiles from hostels near schools. Last Sunday he went further, saying that the whereabouts of sex offenders 'should no longer remain the exclusive preserve of officialdom', almost endorsing the campaign for Sarah's law.

And in what could yet turn out to be his most significant move, Mr Reid addressed a conference of top US police chiefs and crime specialists in London on Wednesday morning; invited by Sheila Lawlor of the Politeia think-tank, the US cops came to Britain to brief ministers, Home Office officials and British policemen on how they have reduced crime by vigorously applying 'broken windows' policing. In the 1980s, Americans felt powerless at the rising disorder afflicting US cities, just as we do today. But in the 1990s, starting in New York, everything changed, thanks to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, his police chief, Bill Bratton, and his deputy John Timoney, and academics such as James Q. …

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