In today's Observer, columnist Henry Porter lays out the dismal facts of Britain's rush to authoritarianism and the failure of the big brother, surveillance state to make a civil land:
To put these figures in perspective, we spend more on law and order than any other OECD country including the United States, France, Germany and Spain. It is fair to say that Britain is in the grip of law and order obsession, yet we seem incapable of putting police officers on the beat to patrol our streets, investigate crimes and keep order with an eye to proportionate and sensible use of their powers. By that, I do not mean three officers on mountain bikes pursuing a colleague on his racer through crime-ridden Hackney to issue him with a £30 fine because he had avoided dangerous roadworks by briefly using the pavement. I don't mean texting the victim of a burglary, as happened to a friend of mine, to see if she had anything more to report.
Despite crime figures going down, we continue to spend more and lock up proportionately more people than any other free country. The most recent figures for London show falls of 14 per cent in both knife and gun crime and a 7 per cent reduction in violent crime generally. Since 1997, the official figures for the country claim a drop in the crime rate of 35 per cent. Academics suggest this figure is hugely inflated, but the downward trend is undeniable and could be claimed by Labour as a victory for its policies were it not for its sinister need to keep us in a state of permanent fear about crime.
The estimable Cherie Booth put her finger on the problem and inadvertently (perhaps) provided a grand analysis of her husband's cynical use of crime to push his authoritarian programme. On the release of a very good report from the Howard League for Penal Reform attacking the government's policy of building Titan prisons, which will hold 2,500 brutalised souls, she used the word 'punitive' a lot and referred to 'the hysterical rhetoric of politicians attempting to ride the tiger of public opinion'. Or what is perceived as public opinion, she added.