Magazine article The Spectator

An End to Cant and Defeatism

Magazine article The Spectator

An End to Cant and Defeatism

Article excerpt

Nell Clark A BRIEF HISTORY OF CRIME by Peter Hitchens Atlantic Books, L16 99, pp. 315, ISBN 1843541483

It's fair to say that Peter Hitchens remains one of the most misrepresented figures in the British media. As a pro-marriage, anti-war, social conservative who supports the monarchy and renationalisation of the railways, Hitchens poses problems for those who love to fit their pundits into neat left/right, liberal/authoritarian pigeon-holes. Erroneously labelled a `crazed right-wing monster', Hitchens is in reality one of the most thought-provoking and intelligent commentators on life in contemporary Britain, and someone with whom the traditional Left can find much common ground.

In A Brief History of Crime, the author concerns himself with a topic which has long troubled him, namely Britain's seemingly irreversible decline into lawlessness. Hitchens contends that 'the wicked, the loud, the selfish, and the violent' are freer from restraint than they have been since the age of Charles Dickens. No one who lives on a council estate or who has witnessed the scenes of disorder which take place in our towns and cities each Friday and Saturday night would surely disagree.

The core of Hitchens' thesis is that unless as a society we acknowledge the extent of the problem and concentrate on decisively punishing 'wicked actions', our ancient civil liberties will be increasingly threatened. Blunkett's draconian antiterrorist legislation, the European Arrest Warrant, the scrapping of the double jeopardy rule and the threats to trial by jury are all evidence of the illiberal direction we are heading in under New Labour - measures which to Hitchens pose 'the gravest threat to English liberty since the 17th century'.

Hitchens believes that the solution to combating lawlessness lies in turning the clock back - to the days when our police patrolled the streets in an attempt to prevent crime, rather than speeding through our town centres merely reacting to it; to the days when prisons were prisons and not university halls of residence; and to the days when murder, a 'crime of unique horror', was punishable by a unique punishment. In short, we need to return to the days before that legendary luncher and Hitchens' public enemy number one, Roy Jenkins, wreaked his havoc at the Home Office. Hitchens' arguments for the reintroduction of the death penalty are particularly compelling. …

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