Posted by Left Luggage on June 27, 2009
Does the Left have any adequate answers to anti-social behaviour? And does it need to? These questions were posed to me by a friend recently who’s life has been made hellish by his neighbours. The story points to some critical issues regarding social liberalism and the Left’s approach to community politics:
My friend lives in back-to-back terrace house in a northern town. A few months ago, a young couple with a child moved in next door. At first there were a few minor problems: rubbish left piled up in the shared back yard, the dogs defecating in his garden and their owners not clearing the mess up. But the young man would take care of these things when asked.
Soon, though, the young man had left the scene, and was replaced by the comings-and-goings of numerous young men calling at the house at all hours. Problems intensified: more and more rubbish, then setting fire to the rubbish, a succession of loud parties until the earlier hours, drunk poeple spilling out of the house in the earlier hours, loud arguments, drug use, and the (now noticeably emaciated) dogs let out to roam the streets.
The response from the authorities has been negligible. The fire brigade wasn’t interested in the cause of the fire, the police didn’t follow-up on the matter as promised after sending a PCSO round, the council say they can’t remove the rubbish, and the RSPCA say they can’t do anything about the dogs unless they’re being “mistreated”.
Meanwhile, my friend has visited some his neighbours who are all equally sick of what has been going on. But all of them are too fearful to take action, either by contacting the authorities or doing anything else. It seems the young woman is notorious in the town and is well known to the police and many local people.
In essence this reads like the kind of “neighbours from hell” story you might find in right-wing tabloids like the Daily Mail or the Express. But that does not mean we should automatically discount it; there are real and serious issues here that those on the Left need to consider. So how would we approach this? I would argue two responses are most common:
Posted in Crime, Morality, Working class | 3 Comments »
Posted by Left Luggage on May 25, 2009
As the MPs expenses scandal rumbles on, it is interesting to note that the harshest criticisms in moralistic terms have come from the Right, especially the press. This is not too surprising as “moral issues” issues are generally seen as the preserve of the Right, with the Left generally preferring structural socio-structural over agent-focussed explanations.
In the US this trend is much more well developed than here in the UK. Republicans use the language of right and wrong consistently, for example in the “culture wars” around Bush’s election. There are totemic issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control, but GOP members also used the language of morality in its campaign to abolish inheritance tax in 2001, a change that would have only affected a tiny number of the wealthiest in society. In his book, Death by A Thousand Cuts, Michael Gratz chronicles how the Democrats responded to this proposal with an appeal to self interest – “most of you don’t pay it and, besides, we need the money” – thus making the party seem like the defenders of a corrupt status quo. They didn’t try to argue the moral position of their own: that inheritance is deeply undemocratic and anti-meritocratic.
There is certainly a resistance to talking explicitly about morality from liberals and the Left. Partly this is justified insofar as we have an understandable distaste for the right-wing tendency to reduce everything to individual moral questions, blame social problems on individual failings, and obscure structural injustices. But our reluctance to address issues of morality leaves the field open for the Right (and the Christian Right in the US) to position itself as the defender of moral values against an out-of-touch liberal elite.
A case study in how the Left should not address issues of morality came recently from Jeremy Seabrook in a Guardian article which argued the MPs expenses scandal told us more about ourselves, as a society that has lost its moral compass:
There are, perhaps, no innocent bystanders, yet many are ready to cast the first stone at the crooked and self-serving. Perhaps, after all, our MPs represent us more than we care to admit. This is why the indignation of the unforgiving media and the vengefulness of the public have reached such a paroxysm.
While reintroducing the question of morality, Seabrook shunts out any structural analysis of society in favour of emphasising individual failures and individual solutions. In a sense, it is similar to the phenomenon of -Keep reading>
Posted in Crime, Environmentalism, Morality, Strategy | 2 Comments »
Posted by Left Luggage on April 8, 2009
Last year, two teenage boys in the East London college where I work were stabbed to death. The killings happened on separate occasions and in different parts of East London, but there were many similarities between the two cases. Both were killed after refusing to hand over mobile phones. Neither had a history of involvement in violence. Both were murdered a year before they planned to go to university. I didn’t know either student personally, but it is likely they would have been among the first in their families to reach higher education, had their lives not been ended prematurely.
At least half a dozen teenagers have been killed in the immediate vicinity of the college in the three years I have worked there. Communities in the area are extremely tight-knit, and many of my students have been personally affected by the killings. In my first term, I remember reading the account one girl wrote of the night her friend was stabbed through the heart in front of her at a party. A male student of mine took time off college after seeing his female friend murdered. Staff have also been attacked. A security guard was stabbed in the back in broad daylight outside the college gates after he allegedly offended a friend of the attacker. He survived.
One of the most pernicious affects of crime is the way it alters the social and political views of those whose lives it blights. Most of the young people I work with have a pessimistic view of human nature, refusing to believe that people have altruistic motivations. Far from having pride in their communities, they can’t wait to leave what they see as dangerous and neglected neighbourhoods. Whenever we discuss crime they voice support for the most authoritarian policies, -Keep reading>
Posted in Community, Crime, Strategy | 11 Comments »