'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Fear is the most prevalent form of social control
A view from SQUALL central
Squall 13, Summer 1996, pg. 4.
Fear of crime has been news-manufactured to a point where new measures of social control, however draconian, meet little opposition.
No challenge from a British public frightened into accepting such measures as necessary, or from politicians afraid to stand up and face the macho accusation of being too soft. In the war for political control, fear is used to disperse the opposition; instead of fighting, they run for their lives and careers.
Whilst statistics are unconvincing in their support of this rising tide of crime, there is hardly anyone in Britain who has been unaffected by the acres of alarmist news coverage. No matter how isolated the incident, it is invariably presented as a disturbing new trend.
Imagine a scenario where a government is keen to tighten its grip on personal freedom, but faces a public unlikely to find this palatable. So political strategists set about convincing the nation of the need for such social control. If you then consider the huge resources poured into politically disingenuous news manufacture, the fear of crime pervading the minds of the nation can be viewed in a less hysterical light.
When Jamie Bulger was murdered, it did not mean that all across the nation children were killing other children. Yet, as a result of the coverage devoted to the case, how many parents refused to let their children out to play anymore through fear of similar tragedy. What is billed as a 'disturbing new trend' facilitates disturbing new measures to deal with it. The Bulger case helped facilitate Michael Howard's introduction of child prisons, as well as the exponential growth of CCTV cameras on our streets. It also provided the ground for Jack Straw's recent suggestions of street curfews for children.
The break in the IRA ceasefire also facilitated a situation where stop, search and detain powers were recently increased with cross party support.
The description of squatters and travellers as "hordes of marauding locusts" in a Daily Telegraph editorial is another example of media manufacture used to induce public palatability for the multitude of social control measures contained within the Criminal Justice Act.
If we have done nothing wrong, what do we have to fear from the loss of the right to silence contained within the CJA? So ran Howard's reasoning.
However, the record amount of compensation paid this year by the police for the fabrication of evidence and violence against prisoners, is a relevantly juxtaposed reply to his simplistic arguments.
And, in the taught fear of current politics, the Labour Party either abstains or joins in the game of political trumps with a few social control ideas of their own. This situation effectively means there is no parliamentary voice representing the freedom of British citizens. With no bill of rights written into the British constitution, the concept of civil liberties has atrophied to a degree which affords it little political respect.
The last recourse currently available to any citizen caught up in the deluge of British social control is the European Court of Human Rights. Small surprise was it when Michael Howard recently announced his campaign to diminish the powers of this court after being found guilty by its judges on several occasions.
Whilst the Criminal Justice Act introduced sanctions against public protest, the Security Services Bill currently creeping through parliament will bring MI5 onto the environmental protest scene (see 'Unleashing the spies - page 16). Indeed the sinister imagery associated with MI5 will undoubtedly be used to instil fear amongst environmental protestors. With Michael Howard responsible for both granting MI5 surveillance warrants and overseeing the complaints procedure against its agents, this fear mechanism is at his disposal. Our response is supposed to be submission, for the purposeful manufacture of fear is designed to induce compliance.
The same concept is being applied to the prison system, where a record and rising number of inmates are being crammed into ever more austere prison conditions. Michael Howard's intention is to introduce some of the harshest prison conditions seen in modern times (see 'Howard turns the screws' on page 28). As a result, the number of prison officers has been cut, as have educational programmes, and entertainment facilities (eg televisions).
Howard has also made attempts to introduce ex-army personnel into probation as a way of replacing social workers with harsh disciplinarians.
The rising number of people imprisoned for fine default is an indication of the levels to which his measures are being taken. The number of people imprisoned for points of conscience is also on the increase (see 'Hawks and Doves' on page 34 and 'Growing Pains' on page 36) But whilst Michael Howard considers that prison works, his own Royal Commission on Justice says it doesn't. Meanwhile the easily manipulated British fear of foreigners has been harnessed to pave the way for the Asylum and Immigration Bill and the incarceration of asylum seekers (see 'Desperately seeking asylum' on page 24). Fear of unemployment and house repossession combined with decreasing employment rights has also fuelled a seeping workplace insecurity, helping to keep employees compliant.
The fear of crime, the fear of being criminalised and the fear of stepping out of line are part of Howard's drive to facilitate his designs on ultimate social control, where justice is a side issue.
The key to resisting this deluge of fear, is the development of an understanding of the way in which it is perpetrated. For it is a device designed to paralyse the conscience of a nation and have us running to the nearest available tyrant who promises to protect us.
The increase in paramilitary style police responses to civil disturbances like those in Leeds, Bradford and Luton last year, also confirms an undiscussed change of tactics.
The definition of terrorism contained within the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act includes "the use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the community in fear."
Under this definition, the present government are as much terrorists as any of their social control targets. As such we are all potential victims of their crime; unless of course we recognise the bluff behind the bluster and elect to operate on a basis other than the fear expected of us.