Wednesday 26 August 2009

Don't matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin' the same.

Chris Grayling has taken a certain amount of flack for comparing "broken" Britain to Official Best Ever TV Show "The Wire". This is a mistake. I don't mean that it wasn't a mind-numbingly stupid comparison to make - clearly it was. Whether you focus on the massive disparity between crime rates in Baltimore and Manchester, or the deep unwisdom of using as political ammunition a show which dwells heavily and negatively on opportunistic politicians who'll say anything to get elected, it was a bloody silly thing to say.

But focusing on this superficial stupidity runs the risk of ignoring the much greater, and more dangerous, fundamental stupidity that lurks deep within Grayling's full speech. I say stupidity: I'm tempted to add "and lies". But it's possibly just a cock-up.

Ostensibly, this speech was prompted by an eye-opening evening spent with a special police unit in Manchester. After Grayling's breathless anecdote about what life's really like on the mean streets, he starts tying his own in-depth experience to the grim reality, as revealed by statistics:
Since Labour came to power, the level of violent crime in Britain has risen dramatically, by 70 per cent.

This is, as far I can tell, complete bollocks. Crime figures, happily, are released in July - here is the trend in violent crime:

Those of you not trained in statistics may not see it immediately, but the important point to note is that while Grayling said the figures were going up, they are in fact doing something statisticians refer to as "going down". They have been doing so since just before Labour came into power. They are now at their lowest level since 1981. Grayling could hardly have been more wrong. But hey, "duking the stats" must be one of those trends that comes over the Atlantic too.

In case you're wondering, that's not the really stupid bit. Because, armed with his anecdotes and his tendentious statistics, Grayling goes on to make the following observations:

"We have delved deep into the small print of the official figures on crime and social deprivation - and the picture that emerges is stark...Nationally every single one of the areas that rank at the top of the list for deprivation is in the top ten percent for crime...Because it is the social breakdown in our most deprived communities that creates the environment in which crime can flourish, in which disillusioned young people turn to a gang culture, in which violence just becomes a norm. "

Let the word go forth from this time and place: in August 2009, the Conservatives finally realised there was a link between deprivation and crime. I know, I know. I didn't think it would ever happen either. But surprised as Grayling clearly is by this unprecedented finding, and as tragic as it must seem to him that no-one had ever before thought to "delve into the small print of the official figures" to wrest this nugget of wisdom from the murk, he isn't letting it put him off his game. Here he stands, appalled by the uncanny similarities between modern Britain and a headline-bait TV program, gripped by an insight that revolutionises our understanding of criminology, fired up with the need to change this cycle of neglect - what revolutionary answers does he offer us?
  1. Bribing couples to get married;
  2. Locking up more teenagers and/or teaching them to kayak;
  3. Getting people off benefits into jobs that don't exist, using American policies shown not to work.

Just so we're all clear, this is the actual policy of the people who will be in power this time next year. So while the idiotic comparison to The Wire is worth a little pointing and laughing, the real message of this speech is a lot less amusing. This is the same approach the Tories had last time they were in power - if you're wondering how it worked out, the graph above should offer a hint.

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