Fear of Lawlessness vs Lawlessness

POSTED: April 23, 2005

In her column in The Guardian on Friday 22 April 2005, Polly Toynbee discussed the fact that, despite strong indications that crime is steadily dropping in Britain, fear of lawlessness is a major factor in the then-current general election campaign.

She quotes a story from the autobiography of former Metropolitan police commissioner Robert Mark to illustrate her point. In it, according to Polly Toynbee:

He writes cheerily of “the odd brawl and punch-up” when patrolling the city centre at weekends in strength “because drunks frequently started fights and a good time was had by all”. Jovially he recounts a “funny” story: “One Friday night an enormous navvy pushed the head of a constable through a shop window and started quite a battle in which uniformed and plain clothes men cheerfully joined in … it grew to quite serious proportions, stopping the traffic … the crowd was jeering and becoming unpleasantly restive.” So what did he do? He took out his illegal rubber truncheon and gave the offender “a hefty whack on the shin”, which broke his leg.

In court the prisoner with his leg in plaster was fined “the customary 10 shillings” for this routine Saturday night fight. But Mark’s point is: “Far from there being any hard feelings he greeted me cheerfully and we went off for a drink together. Nowadays, of course, it would mean a complaint, an enquiry, papers to the director of public prosecutions. Not that I didn’t deserve it, but times were different, thank goodness.”

Her point is that:

People hitting each other was more frequent and more acceptable than now. Yet 48% of “violent” crime reported in yesterday’s figures caused no injury whatsoever. These shock-horror reports about bingeing Britain are certainly right about more booze consumed in these full-employment times, right that most violence is drunk young men hitting each other, but devoid of any historical perspective on street brawling.

A general lack of historical perspective is, arguably, one of the consequences of the radical monopoly exerted by the information industries of both the corporate and state agencies. And the numbing occlusion of life under radical monopoly is something that hardly anybody seems willing to talk about.