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Tuesday, August 25, 2009 

When you walk through the garden...

In one way, you've got to give Chris Grayling some credit. In what is otherwise an entirely run of the mill speech on law and order, which offers precisely no new policies at all from what I can see, he's managed to get the attention of the entire press corp, all thanks to his mention of The Wire, which although few of the people reading the story written up in the papers may have seen, those writing it almost certainly will have. By run of the mill, I mean, in Grayling's tradition, deliberately deceptive, misleading, tenuous and predictable. There's the personal anecdote from Manchester which is then applied to the country as a whole, ringing with hyperbole of a "urban war"; there's the selective use of statistics on violence which don't even begin to give the whole picture, as he relies entirely on police figures rather than the British Crime Survey, which he then later uses when it does help his cause; the now obligatory claim to being more progressive than Labour, which isn't difficult, but which the Tories still manage to fall down on; then, despite claiming to be the new progressive alternative, he goes through all the old law and order dog whistles, benefit culture, broken society, family breakdown, how voluntary organisations and the"third sector" will solve everything, all without even beginning to explain how their proposed alternative would help.

Grayling rather let the cat out of the bag when he said he had only seen a few episodes of the first series of The Wire; I doubt he's even seen those, although those who wrote the speech for him and advise him almost certainly have. As other bloggers have pointed out already, if you can't tell that the The Wire is about the utter futility, hopelessness and disaster of the war on drugs, then you haven't been watching it closely enough, and as indeed the co-creator himself even said. I have a suggestion though: if Grayling thinks that parts of this country now reflect Baltimore as portrayed in The Wire, then let's try some of the solutions which the characters in the show themselves experimented with.

For instance, in the third series, beaten into a corner by the insanity of the pressure on him to reach targets to cut violent crime, as well as his disgust at seeing how following the demolition of the main area of the city where drugs were bought and sold the trade has spread out into neighbourhoods previously untouched, Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin finds an almost deserted part of the city and sets up a "free zone", which as long as the dealers and their underlings and the other assorted hangers-on keep to, they'll face no charges and even be helped or protected by his officers. Colvin's plan isn't of course without hitches, and soon, pressured by an old friend into also providing clean needles, free condoms and outreach workers, as well as a murder, it all inevitably falls apart as his superiors realise what he's done, with councillor Carcetti, starting his campaign to be mayor, also milking it for all its worth. Now, while I don't think many would suggest that we should set up similar style "free zones", what's stopping the Tories from thinking really radically and following the example of Portugal and decriminalising drugs almost entirely while drastically improving the facilities for treatment, detoxing and help back into work and society itself? That would be truly progressive.

Then there's the fourth series, with its focus on the school system and the programme which Colvin, now outside the police and into academia attempts running which focuses on the "corner kids" and attempts to both socialise and civilise them into being able to return to their normal classes. Few schools have anything as radical or as breaking out of the mould as similar programmes, and as Colvin himself points out, these are the kids that are being left behind anyway, regardless of claims by politicians that no child will be. Or there's the overall theme which permeates all five series, which is that politicians and police don't mix, and that targets set by politicians only distract from real police work. The Tories still seem set on the idea of elected commissioners, which has to be one of the very worst ideas they've come up with. The police do of course have to be accountable locally, but electing someone who will do little more than interfere and also potentially bring out the very worst in both policing and politics is straight out of the mad house. Three ideas then for genuine, progressive reform, all of which the Conservatives would almost certainly baulk at.

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