Sneering pundits seem to think concern at criminality is reactionary and distasteful
A nine-year-old girl has been shot dead in Liverpool — the third fatal shooting in the city in a week. Social media is awash with footage of gangs of youths terrorising communities across the country. Yesterday, a 28-year-old man was sentenced for raping a mother and her 14-year-old daughter in their own home. He was given a life sentence — to serve a minimum of 10 years.
My intention here is not to talk about the range of factors that lead to such crimes, nor about the leniency of sentencing guidelines, but rather the notion among certain commentators and academics that discussing such issues is indicative of a reactionary mindset or even some kind of psychological malady.
It is bad enough that these communities are subjected to such violence and lawlessness, and they do not need snide journalists and academics arguing that a preoccupation with crime is a conservative or cringey middle-class phenomenon.
Prominent Left-wing voices who have adopted such a position include Tom Gann of the New Socialist, who’s argued that nobody on the Left should give up on police abolition, and Novara Media columnist Moya Lothian-McLean believes that Keir Starmer’s focus on anti-social crime “sums up the carceral bureaucracy” the Labour leader “embodies”.
Amia Srinivasan, writes in The Right to Sex (2021) that “when feminists embrace carceral solutions, they give cover to the governing class in its refusal to tackle the deepest causes of most crime”, framing the imprisoning of rapists and domestic abusers as a means of class control, rather than protecting the most vulnerable women from violence.
In reality, of course, the opposite is true. Crime is highest in working-class areas, and working-class, BAME, and LGBT people are all more likely to be victims of crime than straight, white, middle-class men. This is reflected in the high priority given to crime by voters in these poorer and more diverse areas — as the MPs representing them know all too well.
The highest levels of reported anti-social behaviour are in places like Tower Hamlets, Nottingham, Hackney and Middlesbrough. These are some of the most deprived areas of the country — and also some of the most ethnically diverse. The well-heeled denizens of the Blue Wall are not constantly on the phone to the police because their lives are being made a misery and they’re too scared to walk to the shops.
That’s not to say that the media doesn’t play a role in exacerbating fear of crime: the writer Megan Nolan highlights “the blatant class hatred which permeate[s] media coverage” of horrific crimes such as the murder of James Bulger.
But a focus on role of Right-wing media doesn’t help us understand why such content finds a paying audience among poor and working-class people, and it can provide ammunition for the electorally-suicidal notion that crime reduction is really a middle-class issue.
This is all part of a broader trend on the Left that seeks to recast traditional working-class concerns, such as crime and immigration, as being driven by middle-class conservatives.
In This is Not Normal, an otherwise thoughtful and interesting take on the politics of the past half-dozen years, William Davies draws a dichotomy between “the desperate men and women… living in the abandoned economic regions of the Midlands and North” who voted for Brexit and Boris Johnson for economic reasons, and those “well-off elderly voters… seduced by Faragist visions of national identity” whose votes were won through racist dog whistles.
I have no idea why Davies thinks poor voters in the Midlands and North are somehow immune to appeals to national identity, but the failure to appreciate the salience of immigration and patriotism to working-class voters contributed to the mess the Left is in today, and we can’t afford to do the same with crime.