Leading Article: A shameful intolerance

Share
Related Topics
When Margaret Thatcher addressed herself to Christian compassion many years ago, there was some concern that she had not got it quite right. "No one would have remembered the Good Samaritan, if he'd only had good intentions," she remarked in 1980. "He had money as well." Christians will have been even more surprised, then, by revised thinking on the matter at Westminster last week. The Good Samaritan, had he been really good, would not have been rushing about with pieces of gold at all. He would have bellowed: "You're damned intolerable! Now be up out of that gutter and on your way, man, before I call the police." Had David MacLean MP been passing by, the Tory Scot might have added: "And get back to Scotland while you're about it." John Prescott, bless his bleeding heart, would probably have bought the fellow a cup of tea. But give him money? When a BBC interviewer suggested last week that he had once been spotted handing a beggar pounds 5, the Labour deputy could scarcely have been more insulted had he been accused of frightening commuters at King's Cross.

So open season has been declared on beggars. The wider target, however, would seem to be that other ugly blight on Britain: tolerance. This is an odd thing, for tolerance is something the British have always rather prided themselves on. It was, quaint as it seems, considered until recently a virtue. Now, we are told that zero tolerance - or, in plain English, intolerance - is an essential of good citizenship, and politicians of all hues are falling over themselves to pledge zero tolerance on anything from marijuana to schools with modest GCSE results. This is quite a coup for a concept that began life as a buzz word in 1982 in an American magazine article. The writers, George Kelling and James Q Wilson, thought perhaps if we stamped out petty offences, bad things wouldn't happen - a kind of "look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves" approach to policing. Americans are keen on catchphrases, and academics, looking to make a buck on the celebrity lecture circuit, can make quite a splash if they come up with a good one. And so zero tolerance was born, and - like Three Strikes and You're Out - we duly saw fit to import it. We should be sure we understand precisely what it means. If we are not careful, liberalism will soon have become a dirty word.

We have grown accustomed to hysteria from the right about the "tyranny" of political correctness. Now we are seeing a sort of counter-PC version, where compassion, or tolerance, or concern for the welfare of others, is becoming more offensive than molesting your secretary. When the Bishop of Edinburgh endorsed the Labour Party on Friday, the BBC reported that he "admitted" voting Labour all his life. The Good Samaritan, presumably, would today be described as a "do-gooder". And it is right, Tony Blair told the Big Issue, to be intolerant of homeless people. If New Labour say what they mean, and mean what they say, we should be deeply concerned about the language now being employed.

Except that Blair, as usual, will protest that we have got him all wrong. What he meant to say was that we mustn't tolerate graffiti and beggars and other unsightly nasties, not for the benefit of people like him who feel a bit frightened at King's Cross, but for poor people who have to live in places like that and the beggars themselves. We must crack down on the underclass's every misdemeanour for their own good. It would be nice to trust his motives. But in the absence of concrete policy proposals for real homes and jobs for these people - using money from those King's Cross commuters' pockets, if need be - it is hard to know what he really has in mind.

He and Jack Straw are too busy alarming us with "aggressive" beggar stories to explain. These wicked Bladerunner bogeymen are, apparently, prowling every street - though, strangely, one never meets their victims. What possible reason could Labour have for stirring up fear and loathing where once was compassion and concern? The same, perhaps, that prompted Peter Lilley to sing his welfare scrounger list. The beggars should be more frightened of Mr Blair than he of they. When a politician is preparing to give a group a good kicking, he is careful to make sure no one will feel pity before he lays in the boot.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
One 200ml bottle of codeine linctus contains three times the equivalent level of morphine you'd get in casualty if you broke your wrist  

The ‘war on drugs’ consistently ignores its greatest enemy: over-the-counter painkillers

Janet Street-Porter
The author contemplating what could have been  

I was a timid, kind, gentle-natured child, later to be spurned and humiliated – in short, the perfect terrorist-in-waiting

Howard Jacobson
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable