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.

Show Hide image

7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.