Does the left have an adequate answer to violent crime?

The death of a pensioner I knew has shaken me

The Daily Mail reports:

A devout Muslim pensioner attacked by a race-hate gang of schoolboys has died.

Ekram Haque, 67, lost his fight for life a week after he was battered to the ground in front of his three-year-old granddaughter, Marian.

As revealed in today's Daily Mail, he suffered horrific head injuries in the assault outside a mosque in Tooting, south-west London, where he had just prayed.

As he and Marian waited for a lift, the gang ran up behind him and clubbed him around the head.

Two other worshippers chased the thugs away but Mr Haque -- described by friends as a 'gentle giant' -- had suffered horrific head injuries.

His granddaughter has been left "very shaken and disturbed", said her father, Mr Haque's son Arfan. Graphic images of the attack were caught on CCTV.

Scotland Yard formally launched a murder inquiry after Mr Haque passed away at St George's Hospital, Tooting, where he had been on a life-support machine since the attack.

Police are linking the assault on the retired care worker to a series of other attacks on elderly Asian people near the mosque.

I'm an occasional worshipper at that mosque in Tooting and I had heard on the grapevine, before it hit the newspapers, that an elderly man had been attacked outside it by a gang of youths on bank holiday Monday, after a Ramadan event. Yet until I saw his picture in the papers over the weekend, I didn't even think that I might know who Mr Haque was -- but I do. I knew him. Not personally. We weren't friends. But I'd seen him around the place and we'd exchanged pleasantries in the past. Now he's dead, killed in a mindless act of violence; killed while minding his own business on a south London street corner, with his three-year-old granddaughter watching. Unbelievable.

And even more unbelievable is this, from the BBC:

Four boys, aged 12, 15 and two 14-year-olds, have been charged with conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm (GBH).

All four are also accused of attacking two other men before the attack on Mr Haque. The four boys will appear at Sutton Youth Court on Tuesday.

Police are now treating the death of Mr Haque as murder.

All four boys face two counts of actual bodily harm (ABH) in connection with the attack on the two men, one in his forties and the other in his seventies, on 31 August.

How on earth can a 12-year-old allegedly carry out such a brutal attack? How are kids across Britain becoming killers? I hate to sound like Melanie Phillips or Chris Grayling, but isn't there something wrong with a society that produces such disturbed children?

Crime makes right-wingers of us of all. Whenever you hear stories like this, you feel a mixture of emotions: sadness, pity, depression, despair but, above all else, anger -- especially when the victim is someone you know. I can't tell you how angry I am right now. So are friends of mine who are regulars at that mosque in Tooting. They, like me, are filled with rage. One of them emailed me to say he wished a pack of Rottweilers could be unleashed upon the four youths who have been arrested so far (and who, incidentally, have not yet been found guilty of any crime).

It is an understandable reaction. But while we all, in our calmer and rational moments, acknowledge that state-sponsored violence against child criminals is immoral and pointless -- it doesn't bring the dead back to life, nor does it teach young offenders the difference between right and wrong -- there is a huge problem here for the left to address. It is the "Broken Britain" theme, on which the Tories have so successfully capitalised. It is worth revisiting a New Statesman leader from a fortnight ago:

There is . . . a profound and genuine sense, across economic classes and geographic regions in Britain, of a public dissatisfaction, even anger, at the coarsening of our public culture and the slow degradation of our urban spaces. Britain is not a "broken" society as the Tories would have it in their resonant slogan, but there is civic disengagement and a widespread perception that something is not quite right in society at large.

. . . Labour ministers, so adept at robotically rehearsing national statistics on crime, unemployment, income and the rest even as they help to create the most unequal society since the Second World War, ignore at their peril . . .public anxiety about social disorder.

The left, I believe, needs a strong, wide-ranging but balanced narrative on violent crime, and youth offending, that goes beyond the obvious socio-economic factors to explore the growing moral and cultural void at the heart of modern British society. Indeed, the left needs to reclaim the language of morality.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Who's winning the European referendum? The Vicar of Dibley gives us a clue

These polls seem meaningless, but they reveal things more conventional ones miss.

At the weekend, YouGov released some polling on 30 fictional characters and their supposed views on Brexit.  If you calculate a net pro-Remain score (per cent thinking that person would back Remain minus the per cent thinking they’d vote for Leave), you have a list that is topped by Geraldine Granger, the Vicar of Dibley (+21), and ends with Jim Royle (-38).

It’s easy to mock this sort of thing, and plenty did: “pointless”, “polling jumping the shark”, and so on. Some even think pollsters ask daft questions just to generate cheap headlines. What a cynical world we live in.

But the answers to those questions tell you quite a lot, both about the referendum campaign and about voters in general.

For one thing, most of the fictional characters that people saw as voting to Remain are (broadly) nice people, whilst the Outers included a fair few you’d not want to be stuck in a lift with, along with other chancers and wasters. On one side, you have the Vicar of Dibley (+21), Mary Poppins (+13), Miranda (+11), and Dr Who (+9) taking on Hyacinth Bucket (-13), Tracy Barlow (-15), Del Boy (-28), and Basil Fawlty (-36) on the other. This isn’t really much of a contest.

Obviously, some of these are subjective judgements. Personally, I’d not want to be stuck in a lift with the Vicar of Dibley under any circumstances – but she’s clearly meant to be a broadly sympathetic character.  Ditto – with knobs on – Miranda. And yes, some of the Outer characters are more nuanced. Captain Mainwaring (-31) may be pompous and insecure, but he is a brave man doing his best for his country. But still, it’s hard not to see some sort of division here, between broadly good people (Remain) and some more flawed individuals (Out).

So, on one level, this offers a pretty good insight into how people see the campaigns.  It’s why polling companies ask these sort of left-field questions – like the famous Tin Man and Scarecrow question asked by John Zogby – because they can often get at something that normal questions might miss. Sure, they also generate easy publicity for the polling company – but life’s not binary: some things can generate cheap headlines and still be interesting.

But there are two caveats. First, when you look at the full data tables you find that the numbers saying Don’t Know to each of these questions are really big– as high as 55 per cent for both Tracy Barlow and Arthur Dent. The lowest is for both Basil Fawlty and Del Boy, but that’s still 34 per cent. For 26 out of the 30 characters, the plurality response was Don’t Know. The data don’t really show that the public think Captain Birdseye (-11) is for Out; when half of all respondents said they don’t know, they show that the public doesn’t really have a clue what Captain Birdseye thinks.

Much more importantly, second, when you look at the cross breaks, it becomes clear how much of this is being driven by people’s own partisan views. Take James Bond, for example. Overall, he was seen as slightly pro-Remain (+5). But he’s seen as pro-Brexit (-22) by Brexit voters, and pro-Remain (+30) by Remain voters.

The same split applies to Dr Who, Postman Pat, Sherlock Holmes, Miranda, and so on.

In fact, of the 30 characters YouGov polled about, there were just eleven where respondents from both sides of the debate agreed – and these eleven excluded almost all of the broadly positive characters.

So, here’s the ten characters where both Remain and Leave voters agreed would be for Brexit: Alan Partridge; Jim Royle; Del Boy; Hyacinth Bucket; Pat Butcher; Tracy Barlow; Captain Mainwaring; Catherine Tate’s Nan; Cruella De Vil; and Basil Fawlty.

That’s not a great roll call. And it must be saying something that even Outers think Cruella De Vil, Alan Patridge, and Hyacinth Bucket would be one of theirs.

Mind you, the only pro-Remain character that both sides agree on is Sir Humphrey Appleby. That’s not great either.

For the rest, everyone wants them for their own.

So what about those who say they don’t yet know how they will vote in the referendum? These might be the key swing voters, after all. Maybe they can give a more unbiased response. Turns out their ranking is broadly similar to the overall one – with scores that are somewhere between the views of the Outers and the Inners.

But with this group the figures for don’t knows get even bigger: 54 per cent at a minimum, rising to a massive 77 per cent for Arthur Dent.

And that’s because, lacking a partisan view about the referendum, they are not able to project this view onto fictional characters.  They lack, in the jargon, a heuristic enabling them to answer the question. Which tells you something about how most people answered the questions.

Philip Cowley is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London.