Today Ken Clarke will make a major speech on the subject of the prison population. As is considered normal these days, we already know what the speech contains before it is heard in parliament.
He will say he is amazed at the growth of the prison population in England and Wales and will demand a radical new approach to cut reoffending.
Mr Clarke will say that prison has too often proved “a costly and ineffectual approach that fails to turn criminals into law-abiding citizens”.
His solution is apparently to pay private firms and voluntary groups to ‘rehabilitate’ offenders.
The fatal flaw in this argument is that it is only addressed towards those who have already offended, in an effort to prevent them reoffending. It does nothing to address the reasons for offending in the first place.
That is an issue in which the government are hopelessly complicit.
We have a Welfare State, which provides slightly more than the basics of life. It contains an allowance towards new clothing, TV, and travel, so can scarcely be said to comprise merely the basics of life – food, water and shelter. We extend that welfare to those who enter this country illegally and claim asylum – and despite the heart wringing stories of ‘destitute asylum seekers’ which would seek to persuade you that all asylum seekers are destitute, but which consistently fail to point out that only those whose case has been reviewed and then an appeal hearing granted, and are still arguing that the decision is unfair and demanding judicial review, who have that basic support removed.
I mention this to pre-empt the emotive comments along the lines of ‘poverty causes crime’. We simply do not have the sort of poverty that might excuse crime in this country. Nobody needs to steal bread to feed their children.
What we do have is a society in which greed is encouraged, indeed seen as a ‘good thing’ for society. At the beginning of the financial crisis, VAT was lowered and we were exhorted to ‘go out and spend’ to save the country from ruin. Since then we have been encouraged to buy new cars, to buy a new boiler for our home, and at no time has there been a hint of ‘only if you can afford it’ or ‘only if you need to’.
The acquisition of ‘more than you have now’ has been consistently portrayed as a desirable state. By the government as much as the media. It is after all, what oils the capitalist wheels. More, more, more.
It should come as no surprise that this emphasis on the necessity of acquiring ever more consumer goods should have also fuelled a rise in crime. Those who have neither the wit, nor the credit, to acquire ‘more’ legally, will do so by dishonest means once you have fostered a society in which the constant acquisition is seen as a right and a necessity.
The days of ‘made do and mend’ have been ridiculed as old fashioned, the TV continually extols the virtue of trading up your property, interspersed with advertisements to ‘cash in your gold’ and not to worry about repaying your credit because the government has arranged for you to only repay ‘what you can afford’.
It is little wonder that even a well paid lawyer such as Sarfaz Ibrahim should believe that it was reasonable to supplement his above average wages in order to acquire the icons of capitalist society.
If the government sincerely wish to cut the prison population then the way to do so is to cut the reason for crime – and that doesn’t mean attending to the fictitious ‘poverty’ that the left harp on about, it means extolling the virtues of self reliance, personal responsibility, personal morality – all the virtues which the church used to extol.
It means creating a culture in which young women are not lauded for spending four figure sums on breast enhancement, nor on a newly shaped contraption in which to cart their credit cards around; where MPs do not complain about the difficulties of accessing their substantial dips into the taxpayers wallet, where the ability to achieve recognition does not depend on how many baubles you possess.
It is a change of atmosphere that a government could very easily arrange if they were minded to do so. It happened during the war when those who made the best of what was available were lauded and rewarded, when government propaganda consisted of hints on how to feed a family of five on three earwigs – yet it is a change we are unlikely to see, for it suits those with controlling interests that the capitalist wheels keep turning, the last thing they want is a self reliant nation full of well fed small holders happily banging together a wooden cart on wheels to take their children out for a stroll.
That is why Ibrahim’s case gets so little interest, it doesn’t suit today’s agenda, one of pretending that ‘crime just happens’ and requires resources to prevent. It doesn’t. It happens because you have created a society in which crime is the only means of keeping up with the Jones for some people – and has nothing to do with any definition of poverty.