Elementary Logic #107

In the days running up to the local elections there was an excellent reminder, if it were needed, that Tory logic is very much of the push-me-pull-you* variety.

Their Dave was around and about in Manchester (a digression: did anyone else pick up on the cringeworthy Cathy Newman segment on C4 news when Their Dave, on being asked to speculate on how the elections would go for the Tories “in his wildest dreams?” replied “Well, hur-hur, not all my wildest dreams are about local elections, Cathy.” Hgaggaaaaaaaah! Gnnnaaaaaaah! Ick! Gn! Make it go away!) busy putting paid to the totally unfair perception (perish the thought!) that he was a Notting Hill namby-pamby. Having thus reassured the denizens, he contined to discuss local problems and suggest solutions.

People are desperately worried about crime, about antisocial behaviour, about what is happening on our streets. Conservative councils will clear your streets and have a zero tolerance policy because we know that clean streets are safe streets… If you get rid of the litter and the graffiti you can get rid of the vandalism and the yobbery that spoils so many of our town and city centres

I would, in all seriousness** welcome any reading Tory who wants to have a go at explaining this chain of causality. Because, I mean, what? Picking up litter will solve all the problems of disaffected youth? Cleaning graffiti off walls will actually lower rates of mugging and burglary? Try as Dave might to disassociate himself from the charge of being a Notting Hill lightweight, it betrays itself in his thinking. The pretty wedding cake streets of Notting Hill are of course extremely clean and extremely safe, but those two mutually exclusive facts proceed from a third fact – they’re rich. Only someone totally wrapped up in their culture could fail to appreciate this as a root cause.

What escapes Their Dave at some quite fundamental level, I reckon, is that the culprits actually live in these areas. Perhaps he thinks they get bussed in at night from some out-of-town anti-social behaviour megastore? As long as certain factors drive people to what Labour has taught us to call, without even mid-air quotation marks any more, anti-social behaviour, they will practise it, on this wall or the next. But the Tory solution recognises no such painfully obvious reality. Move’em on, bang’em up, kick’em out, and Surrey house prices and Victoria sponge competitions will surely follow.

It’s faintly unnerving, how certain they are about this sort of thing on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. You know how nutters think with total seriousness that, say, traffic lights are causing rain to fall and Theresa May is controlling them through the television set? (They’re quite wrong about this, of course; it’s Jacqui Smith). To witness Tory policy-making in action is often like watching a whole bunch of them wearing suits and talking to journalists. One of them would just be a lone nutter, but collectively their skewed world-view has a spurious mass-certitude about it. They really don’t see why the whole world can’t be just like Notting Hill.

* In the sense that it tries to go in two directions as if they were one direction, rather than in the sense that it has two heads, is covered in fur and goes around braying a lot…

** Though not so serious that I won’t throw custard pies at you and go “ner-ner-ner, you’ve gone all YELLOW!”


  1. As a blue basher in my Peoples Glorious Republic I will give my view on what Dave said.

    He is right in a very small way in terms of clearing all graffiti helping to prevent more graffiti appearing. It is the broken window syndrome amongst kids. If an abandoned house has one window smashed and it is not repaired kids then think its okay to then continue to smash the other windows in the building. Same as litter. It is to help demonstrate to kids that our Peoples Glorious Republic is not to be treated as a rubbish dump.

    Where Dave was wrong and idiotic is to equate clean streets with safe streets. Clean streets equate with continued clean streets which residents like. But it won’t reduce crimes like burglary and robbery as different pressures apply.

  2. Have you been watching Blood Sweat and T-Shirts? You can spot the tory boy a mile off. He went to a sweatshop in India and was asking them why they didn’t just pull their socks up and get an education and that would solve all their problems! It’s amazing the number of people who believe this, that all poor people are poor because they are feckless and lazy, and circumstances have nothing to do with it.

    He changed his tune after working there for a week…

    In other news, thank you for getting that bloody Coldplay song in my head.

  3. He’s bought into the zero tolerance thing and hasnt read the “actually, Giuliani got lucky” research surrounding it.

    There is something to it, but it’s nowhere near as effective as he thinks, and needs to be combined with a lot of other stuff, most of which natural tories will dismiss as being “woolly liberalism”.

    On its own, ZT is useless. Bit like Boy Dave really.

  4. Dear Miss Mortimer, I started reading your blog on Local Election night; it’s very enjoyable. Thankyou!
    Perhaps I can weigh in on the topic as one who lived through this experiment in NYC, and as one whom you might regard as Tory.

    I suspect there is something to Broken WIndows theory. The symbolic (and actual) refusal of society to tolerate petty crime does, I think, create an environment inimical to violent crime. It’s of course difficult to separate this refusal from a host of other causes and effects: but please allow that we are not writing an academic paper here, we are looking for practical, concrete steps to reduce crime and encourage the law abiding majority that they are not abandoned. Refusing to tolerate petty crime is a good in itself – think how much cheerier London commuters would feel if the stations and line were interestingly decorated instead of being tagged with graffiiti at every point – and is also an encouragement to the wider population. It’s therefore not a bad policy to headline. I suspect that Mr Cameron is a subtle enough man to realise that other supporting policies may be needed as well, but they don’t need to make it into the short speech.

    Your commenters dismiss Mr Cameron’s logic very loftily, but I notice that they – and you – make some rather over-simplifying assumptions too. Poor people are not necessarily criminals, after all, and the rich often are. (You sound almost as if you support replacing the justice system with a means-tested incarceration policy…) Also, Notting Hill is not especially clean, nor especially crime-free.

    It’s a complicated enough subject that reasonable people can reasonably disagree. But I think it’s hard to say DC’s policy would do any harm; it may do some good, and it may even achieve its goal. If it’s failure is a failure to pay lip service to lefty nostrums, well, frankly that’s another point in its favour for me – but is that, along with some (somewhat ugly) class-based bigotry, really good reason to oppose it?

    The Elementary Logic goes: Policy X worked in NYC. Policy X may, mutatis mutandis, work here. No other Policy has a name for itself as working so well. Ergo, let us give Policy X a try here.

    You may disagree with any or all of the antecedents, but I don’t think the logic is especially faulty.

    Have a good day!

  5. Dave’s type of Tory gets excited about Zero Tolerance because while it sounds really hard, especially if you say it with a Bronx accent, actually fixing windows and scrubbing out graffiti is quite cuddly compared with the more obvious alternatives, e.g. more police on the streets, longer sentences, clearing the drugs and gang-related fun out of prisons – let alone getting on with the seriously hard-edged business of tackling the defects of state education and welfare dependency more generally, because to do any of this with any seriousness might suggest that the Tories have a fundamentally different approach to the Welfare State than does New Labour, which might sound ‘nasty’, which is no good, despite the fact that through some headachey nightmare of triangulation New Labour has long since taken to being far more nasty than our lot ever were, even in the most thoroughly Bolly-fueled day-dreams of the late 1980s. (And also, promising anything substantive would mean that the Tories would have to break their pledge to match Labour’s spending pledges, which won’t do either, as, rather like some dysfunctional banana republic that has to shadow the USD to gain any form of international credibility, pretending we’re just like another party appears to be our only way of achieving any form of collective self-esteem, let alone convincing anyone else of our merits.)

    So, do I win a puppy? And can it please be a Norfolk terrier, preferably a brindle bitch with a very shiny nose?

  6. @DearLeader & libertarianroyalist,

    I was pondering on the broken-windows type of thing while writing, and the major counter example that occurred to me was the Stephen Lawrence Centre (new, shiny, very obviously treasured locally and unblemished – targetted in a vandal attack).

    I suppose for completeness what I should have said was that the Tory notion of “tackling” crime in local neighbourhoods is probably all very well in places where there is no systemic or serious problem, because the people responsible will just take their trouble back to their own neighbourhoods where there *are* systemic and serious problems.

    In other words, Tory local council tactics work well in the kind of affluent places where Tories tend to get elected, and they draw from this the lesson that it would work everywhere and all they’ve got to do is promise the same to the big cities, which is where it starts to sound hollow and ridiculous.

    “But I think it’s hard to say DC’s policy would do any harm; it may do some good, and it may even achieve its goal.”

    But doesn’t that infuriate you?! Striking out the third clause (because I have reason to think, as outlined above, that it’s wrong), you’re basically saying, “Well, it won’t make things on balance any worse.” This is supposed to be the government-in-waiting, and we really must start expecting a certain level of imagination from it (even a concrete costed policy apart from the one about raising the inheritance tax band would be nice).

    Lefty nostrums be damned, by the way, I think you’re a little hard on me there. I’m a liberal, and in some ways I probably lean closer to the right than the left (I agree with a good half of fugitive ink’s prescription, for example – I would substitute decent community policing relations, a la Paddick in Lambeth, for the prison stuff). In a sense I would love to think that the bulk of the Tories have actually taken on board some basic understandings about how society is shaped by opportunity, distribution of wealth and all the rest of it. But they plainly haven’t if they think this amounts to an answer to inner city petty crime.

    As to Cameron’s being more subtle than that, by all means point me towards the Tory policy paper/briefing link where the issue is discussed in more detail.

    Thanks all, that was probably a better post than the one I originally wrote.

    Fug ink, you may indeed have a puppy if you can tell me where the Tory online policy paper section actually is 😉

    I think your problem with spending plans, btw, is that you’re not prepared to tackle various business reliefs and higher-rate taxpayer perks that we are, in case your core vote starts frothing at you. But if you were to do that, it *is* possible to lower income tax – we have a costed plan to do it.

    It occurs to me that if you followed our tax policy (which is tax-neutral overall), and put some of the savings towards some great unified anti-crime plan, rather than towards, say, funding green taxes as the take declines with increased environmental awareness, you might be on to a winner because the frothers would have to admit that you were funding policies they cared about. Fortunately for us, I’m not convinced George Osbourne is up to this legerdemain.

  7. Fugitive ink is largely correct, and has written what I would have done. Dave, like Tony before him, is incredibly adept at finding ‘policyettes’ which manage to fit into the very narrow ideological space between the ‘old Tory’ concern with crime and the supposedly ‘new’ (or ‘liberal’ :-() desire to be fluffy. Talking about tackling crime pushes just enough of the old Tory buttons, whilst avoiding saying anything at all that might upset the ‘new’ people.

    It’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint exactly what Dave is doing, because none of this is written down or documented anywhere, unlike most of the great (if that’s not something of a misnomer) programmes of political change in the 20th century. It all seems to rest on a tacit understanding of how the electorate functions. Vague terms like ‘change’, ‘new’, ‘middle’ and ‘liberal’ (if Dave can use this term then it sadly has become vague) are used, but all conceal the objective of crafting an ‘all things to all people’ agenda. And it works, which is the only thing that the Tories are concerned with after being out of power for an unprecedented length of time, in recent history at least.

  8. Torys apptempting to steal the liberal vote?hhmmm that sounds almost as though normality is slowly returning.

    As for the ability of zero tolerance in regards to the broken window effect that occured in New York *after* Giuliani came to power in that illustrious city. Didnt the drop in crime begin BEFORE he implemented the Zero T policy? Just rember that the type of crime that white collar workers commit rarely involves spray painting *RBS sucks* onto the side of the local bank. So who would this policy affect the most? Yes those unfasionable blue shirt wearing members of the work force! The conservatives sticking it to the proles?! WOW The sky just turned blue!

    Ps it didnt im just being sarcastic

  9. Alix, I take the point in your response that it is a simpler task to reduce crime in a neighbourhood if the perpetrators are coming in from outside as opposed to fouling their own nest.

    However, I think your talk of locales with systemic problems is over-gloomy. I can think of very few places in England where the criminally disaffected make up more than a very tiny percentage of the population as a whole. Although it only takes a few to make life a misery for everyone, I do think the problem is actually fairly tractable. We are, by and large, a pretty reasonable, law abiding, society. I think for too long we have seen crime as a fact of life – it isn’t, at least not at the levels to which we have had to become accustomed.

    On the other hand, I am much less sanguine than you about the ability of the State to change very much for the better. I would be delighted if any government proposed a programme which, in execution, did no harm. I live in hope. I am probably not speaking for the Tories, here, of course..

    To return to politics, I do think the meme that the Tories should announce detailed policies at this stage is disingenuous. They are (part of) the Loyal Opposition and their function currently is to oppose. Their detailed policy prescriptions should be published in their Election Manifesto. Policies are the application of principles to circumstances. Circumstances will undoubtedly change between now and an Election. What they should perhaps be ensuring is that we all understand their principles.
    One case in point: as a LibDem, would you not agree that the specific 50p tax band policy long outlived its usefulness or credibility? £100,000 isn’t what it was..

  10. Alix,

    Graffiti, fly tipping and other such activity is known as a ‘signal crime’. One piece of graffitti attracts another and that attracts litter and before you know it you got a place that looks unkempt and uncared for a a good place to deal drugs, take drugs generally be noisy and make the lives of the majority of people who live there a misery.

    In Crystal Palace ward (where i chair the Safer Neighbourhood Panel) we are one of the London Borough of Bromley’s (yes, that Tory borough wot won it for Boris)crime ‘hot spots’. Although within the ward it is again very patchy, but making sure that our estates are graffiti free is incrediably important to us residents.

    Yes, we still have drug users going on burglary sprees to feed their habits but we have less of the low level anti social behaviour than we used to.

    It’s also very important to deal with grafitti in London as most ‘tags’ perform the function of marking out ‘gang’ territority. Again, dealing with tagging is only one part of the gang issue but it is still important – young people, who may understand the import of the tags better than me or you, find that tagging makes them feel unsafe.

    Of course it’s not all that has to be done but to knock sorting out graffiti and vandalism just because David Cameron is advocating it to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  11. @Jo, like I said to the others, I don’t knock Cameron because he wants to clean up graffiti. I knock him because it’s apparently all he can think of to say when faced with intractable social problems.

    Take gang tagging as a good example. Gangs are, basically, an underground movement and (you must have seen this happen) if you clean up their graffiti, they’ll put more up, and if you clean it up often enough, they’ll find another way to tag their territories. Never underestimate the ingenuity of the dissident. I’m not saying you shouldn’t clean up the graffiti, I’m just saying you shouldn’t kid yourself that you’re ultimately doing anything other than cleaning up graffiti.

    It’s not that alternatives are lacking. I recently wrote up a survey of local youth opinion in Haringey (@l/r, my locale probably is skewing my perception somewhat) and large numbers of them were crying out for something to do with their time. One of the police commented that all the local estates were now covered with “No ball games” stickers, which wasn’t the case thirty years ago. So where are these kids supposed to go, if anything they want to do is going to upset the residents?

    At around the same time, I heard of the case of a spanking new youth leisure and activity centre in, I think, a neighbouring borough which had actually banned kids from hanging around outside waiting for their friends! Bonkers. These facilities are supposed to be put at the heart of community life. Places like that ought to be welcoming kids in, making friends with them, marketing to them, not become just one more place that moves them on. It’s no bloody good if some set of, basically, Tories is deciding who’s allowed to be in “the community” and who’s a dangerous yob who needs to be moved on to the next council’s patch asap. The very language of Cameron’s statement is repellant to me.

    I think a lot of this is highlighted in what you say:

    “…good place to deal drugs, take drugs generally be noisy and make the lives of the majority of people who live there a misery”

    Look, aren’t these the kind of assumptions that we revolted against when we became liberals? We’ve already got laws against dealing drugs – what we need is better use of police time to enforce them and an assault on the conditions that predispose people to deal drugs. “Generally be noisy”? What does that even mean? If we’re talking noise after 11.30pm, say, then that’s one thing. But I’ve seen too many people grimace disapprovingly just because some kids are chattering away loudly and enthusiastically on a bus, and I’ve watched in amazement as perfectly nice looking middle-aged people think they have the right to rudely shove astonished schoolchildren out of the way on the grounds that they’re using slang, holding i-pods and eating chewy sweets. Their attitude is revolting. They basically just don’t like these kids and they’re going to feel superior and yet-at-the-same-time threatened, goddamn it, no matter what the observable reality.

    All too often these alleged complaints boil themselves down into the residents just not liking the “sort of kids” who hang around in these areas. It easily becomes a cover for good old-fashioned prejudice. I’m not saying this happens on your patch, because I don’t know anything about it. But it’s how it happens on mine. And I didn’t buy into this whole being-a-liberal thing to cheerlead the measly unimaginative social policy “solutions” of authoritarians, whether or not they have the incidental outcome of making the walls cleaner (I personally don’t give a flying toss about graffiti incidentally, but all the newspapers tell me that everyone does so I must be wrong).

    On that note, libertarian royalist, I find it interesting that you assume I am particularly a statist. I certainly wouldn’t be in favour of any expansion of the state with regards to policing (according to Our Brian, a redeployment of resources with more admin staff is what’s required) and I increasingly favour, for example, almost total devolution of the education system to private control (by which I mean collectives of parents and/or other interest groups, rather than companies particularly).

    In fact it always strikes me that many Tories are a great deal more naturally statist than they affect to be, because their natural paternalism (another element on display in the Cameron quote) is just too strong for them to be able to resist bossing people about. I read a very good piece on ConHome by Graeme Archer a while back on devolution of schools along much the lines I describe above. 90% of the comments just didn’t get the libertarian principle at all – it was all “yes, we need to seize back control! put the house back in order! get rid of phonetics! allow expulsion! segregrate schools!” All of it exactly the kind of micro-management that has given Labour such a bad education record in the face of all the resources lavished on education.

    I’m quite happy to take your word for it on the 50p thing – disappeared before my (very short) time, so come back in ten years and see what I can be pulled up on instead! 😀 I do think however, as a tax pinhead, that tax should never be about making a point or sending a message. It should be about collecting tax in the simplest and fairest way possible, and clearly our current tax package is a great deal more amenable to that than the 50p band was. That’s not to say, however, that fairness and simplicity won’t ever necessitate higher tax bands – but from what I’ve heard people say about the 50p tax band, I don’t think it arose from those motives.

  12. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you…..after a tough day being a teenager…(it takes it out of you y’know) Its nice to know that somebody has a harsh word or two to say about the failings of the tories….Im not against Labour bashing but you’ve got to be fair about criticism


  13. Jo@13: Yes, he’s setting up a narrative. But I’m not sure that ‘setting up a narrative’ is a complete description of what he’s doing, or why. Every time a politician opens his or her mouth, they are building a narrative. What’s interesting about Cameron is the detail of the narrative, particularly that it is perfectly crafted to avoid offending anyone and to avoid giving any real clue as to what the Tories might do in government.

    Like Tony Blair, I wonder if he hasn’t begun to believe his own publicity. His politically charmed life up to this point may persuade him that he can bring about ‘change’ in ways that never hurt anyone (except the ‘bad guys’); Tony Blair had much the same belief, and it’s possible to explain his attitude towards the Iraq invasion in precisely those terms – he thought that it could all be done without anyone getting seriously hurt, except the bad guys.

    In reality, tackling crime is a hard problem that won’t be solved by merely cleaning up graffiti, though that is undoubtedly a useful thing to be doing (so useful that I imagine all but the most dysfunctional councils are doing it already). What’s annoying is that the very lack of substance is what makes it impossible to argue with. Cameron is advocating something that most people will approve of, but he’s claiming that it is going to have effects that go a lot further without any real plan for how to get there.

  14. Actually, it has been shown in quite a few case studies that if you clean up the grafitti enough times eventually it stops (normally after the 4th or 5th time if memory serves me right). When you leave it there, it breeds. Before I actually got involved in community policing I was a little sceptical too (not as much as you are about this though)so I did look at the theory behind it – it’s not so much NYC as the Chicago Police Department that has provided the model for community policing.

    I’m not suggesting at all that young people should be moved on from where they live, that ‘no ball games here’ signs are a good thing.

    On the ‘generally be noisy front’..well, it’s hard to define it as noise and anti social noise is rather subjective. Being noisy whilst playing a football match can be very different from a swear word filled slanging match. Neither of them are illegal but they do make a big difference about how people feel about where they live and how safe it is.

    I would say on busy estates where there are young children trying to get to sleep consideration might be given after about 9pm. But I’m a liberal, I don’t want to make this illegal I just think about being considerate. It also depends on whether you are a night owl or not.

    I’m not kidding myself about anything, Alix, I know that cleaning up grafitti stops where I live becoming a place that invites worse behaviour, because for all your cynicism, I know that people’s surroundings do affect their behaviour. I’ve worked in this way with local communities and the police for over two years now and I’ve seen drops in crime and drops in the amount of time that the Safer Neighbourhood Teams have to spend in various estates that look smart and take pride in their appearance compared to the ones covered in grafitti and litter.

    I’ve also done workshops with the police and young people so the thing about the tags being threatening to young people wasn’t just my assumption; sure, there’s other ways of marking out territory in a gang but grafitti tags are pretty effective and stopping them helps disturb one of their channels of intimidation.

    Clearing up graffiti, though often reported by police safer neighbourhood teams, is actually done by the council so there doesn’t need to be an either or with grafitti removal and removing drug dealers. But by making police part of the solution to all sorts of environmental problems you can start to gain the trust of the local community and get the intelligence you need in order to disrupt the dealers. Sure, the dealers often come in from outside and often place their wares in ‘stashes’ around the place so as not to be found with it on their person. But that’s all easier to do is a messy, dirty and dark place than a clean, well lit place. These things may not solve the problems on their own but they contribute to the eventual solution.

    Gosh, how you romanticise gangs! They’re a little different from dissident movements, which I’ve always taken to be based in a cause, whilst gangs are about membership, belonging, crime and intimidation.

    And as for Cameron’s tactics, sure he’s focussing on the little things and not on the chunky policy things that you would prefer what he’s attempting to do (and more successfully than we are at the moment) is create a narrative for people to buy into. Narrative’s by their nature are rather simple, emotional and policy lite; but narrative’s also win elections. Boris didn’t win the Mayoralty on the basis of his policies (god forbid!) but because he tapped into the ‘time for a change’ narrative. Narratives of course, have to be backed up by good policies and that’s where I think Tories will fall down…or at least, I hope so. But if you go picking for a fight with the Tories on grafitti removal you are going against the prevailing evidence and against one of key things that people care about in the environment they live in, even if you don’t. Do that and no matter how right you think you are about what really needs to be done to stop knife crime and you’ll lose votes.

  15. No, Rob, every time a politican opens their mouth they are not building up a narrative. Sometimes they are just giving lists of policies. Ken Livingstone did just that during the Sky News debate the other Monday and I nearly fell asleep. Ken’s campaign was completely lacking in a narrative, there was no story whatsoever.

  16. No, Rob, every time a politican opens their mouth they are not building up a narrative. Sometimes they are just giving lists of policies.

    So Ken was building up the narrative that “Ken Livingstone is a boring politician with no vision”? 😀

    I’m not disagreeing with you about what Cameron is doing. Your analysis is pretty much the same as mine, we’re just describing it differently. I do think, though, that everything a politician says or does ultimately goes towards what people think about them. Cameron is very careful in what he does, and he has built a narrative around the idea of being inoffensive, over-promising delivery and under-explaining how he’ll do it. It would not be too harsh to call it a con trick.

    Of course, we need to articulate an alternative narrative. We still do very badly at this despite the fact that people have been talking about it for years 😦

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