Government by gimmicks and tinkering

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The Independent Online

The Government's crusade against antisocial behaviour goes on. The latest initiative comes from the Lord Chancellor, who intends to make it possible for victims of low-level thuggery to give evidence anonymously in the civil courts. The thinking behind this measure is that people are often too intimidated to use the existing antisocial behaviour legislation. Lord Falconer believes that granting anonymity will change this.

Unfortunately, the Government has a diminished stock of credibility when it comes to innovations on crime. The Prime Minister's notion of marching yobs to cashpoints - and a succession of headline-grabbing announcements over the years - have left the public disillusioned. We have heard it all before. But this will not stop the Home Secretary extending his antisocial behaviour legislation next week. With the Lord Chancellor's proposals yesterday, this suggests the beginning of a concerted push to sell Labour as the party of law and order before next year's expected general election.

There is, undoubtedly, a rising problem of antisocial behaviour in Britain, often fuelled by binge drinking and drug abuse. We are all aware that some town centres have become no-go areas at weekends, and many elderly council estate residents are afraid to venture out at all. This is an issue people constantly raise with politicians on the doorstep. The Government would be negligent if it did not make a concerted attempt to respond to society's concerns.

But the gimmicks and tinkering we have been subjected to over the years have served no one's interests. A few of the Home Office's innovations, such as the introduction of dispersal orders, have been moderately successful. But many others, like curbs on begging, have been ineffective. And the Government is being disingenuous in implying that the tide of yobbery can be driven back through legislation alone. The most effective way to tackle this problem is through drug treatment programmes and education schemes for young people. If the Government were serious about being "tough on the causes of crime", this is where it would concentrate its energies.