Those crime figures: the true story

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The Independent Online
'LOOK, Kington, I've sent for you because I think somebody ought to know what's really been happening in the country these past 10 years.'

There are only two kinds of people who think of us in terms of our surnames. There are football people ('. . . and Rush has blasted it wide again]') and old- style ex-public school Tories. This was not a football person addressing me as Kington. It was an elderly Tory politician who had once had ambitions of high Cabinet office, but who had been disillusioned by actually being promoted to Cabinet rank. Now out of office, he spends most of his visible life appearing on radio and television, mostly in quiz games called 'A Question of Politics', and giving exclusive off-the-record talks to any journalist prepared to waste the time.

'This law and order thing, for instance, Kington. What do you make of that?'

He didn't want to know what I made of that, of course. It's a hangover from the kind of public school they went to, where, in an effort to inculcate table manners, it was forbidden to ask for things at table. So if you wanted the salt, what you had to do was 'offer' it to the boy nearest it, as a signal to get him to pass it to you. In later life they say: 'What do you think of this law and order thing, Kington?' It's just a signal that they want the question to be passed back to them.

'I don't know, Sir. What do you think of it?'

'Good question. I think it's a waste of time.'

'How do you mean?'

'All this talk in the Cabinet about hitting back at crime with short, sharp treatment, more lock-away places - all that sort of thing. Load of nonsense. Everyone knows that detention and imprisonment never reformed anyone. The proof is so overwhelming that even the Home Secretary believes it.'

'Does the Prime Minister believe it? After all, he said the other day we should condemn more and understand less.'

'Of course he believes it] His own behaviour should tell you that. Every time one of his Cabinet commits some flagrant indiscretion, the first thing the PM does is proclaim his intention to stand by him. Not much condemning there, and a lot of understanding, whether it's peculation, impropriety, perjury . . .'

'Well, Sir, if short, sharp retribution is agreed not to be the answer, what is? To improve social conditions and prevent crime being born of poverty?'

The old man shook his head smilingly and said: 'For as long as I can remember people have been saying that if you got rid of poverty you would have less crime. There is no way of proving that, because there is no way of getting rid of poverty. But the opposite is true.'

'What?' I said. 'Increasing poverty and seeing if crime increases?' He nodded.

'During the Eighties there was a grand experiment by the government to create areas of poverty in Britain to act as experimental havens in which we could observe whether social deprivation led to increased crime. After 15 years we reckoned we would be in a position to say once and for all whether crime was a product of poverty.'

'You mean,' I said, 'all through the Eighties you deliberately impoverished inner cities, and whole towns in the North and Merseyside just to see if crime would increase there? It wasn't ineptness, after all? It was all done on purpose]'

'That's what I've been trying to tell you. But it was all done scientifically. We also created control groups.'


'We also wanted to see if wealth might create crime. So we have also created conditions of extreme wealth, in companies such as Guinness and Lloyd's, and deliberately created areas such as health trusts and privatised state industries, even in the Bank of England, to see if crime and dishonesty would take root there as well.'

'And . . .'

'The results so far are inconclusive. They tend to show that crime does breed well in extreme poverty. However, it also breeds very well in conditions of extreme wealth.'

'So . . .'

'So the Tory party intends to continue creating some areas of poverty and other areas of wealth. But only, of course, in a spirit of scientific inquiry, to see what happens to those who come out of them.'

'No other reasons?'

'What other reasons could there be?'

He fell asleep, to indicate the interview was over, and I left.