Monday, January 12, 2004

Feel safer yet?
Depressing news from this morning's Independent.

More than four million surveillance cameras monitor our every move, making Britain the most-watched nation in the world, research has revealed...

"...It is about much more than crime. It enables people to be tracked and monitored and harassed and socially excluded on the basis that they do not fit into the category of people that a council or shopping centre wants to see in a public space."

Over the past decade, the Home Office has handed out millions of pounds in grants to police forces and councils to install CCTV systems in the belief it will reduce and prevent crime. But Mr Hugill said: "All that CCTV does is shift the crime to another area for a bit, and then it returns. If you asked most people, they would rather see the Government spending the money on more police officers than on installing cameras, which do not appear to make much difference anyway."

According to the report, we're now watched by over 4,285,000 CCTV cameras. In theory, we can now go about our business watched over by benign guardians of public order. In reality, if anyone's watching at all, it'll be a fat sweaty bloke picking his nose and saying "look at the tits on that" to his mate. CCTV certainly hasn't stopped Manchester turning into something out of Hogarth on a Saturday night, with riotous behaviour mushrooming uninhibited amidst rivers of puke.

We can add this to earlier revelations that New Labour have created 661 new offenses.

Many of their new laws conjure up an unnerving picture of a Britain on the edge of anarchy. What, for instance, explains schedule 26 paragraph 18 (4) of the School Standards Framework Act 1998, which made it a criminal offence "wilfully to obstruct an inspector conducting an inspection of a nursery"? Had kindergarten teachers locked their tots in the classroom and refused to open the door? Or armed themselves with Paddington Bears and beaten the inspectors senseless? Section 3 of the Transport Act 2000 criminalised "the provision of air traffic services without a licence". Until then, presumably, the clear and present danger of demented radio hams directing transatlantic flights into Gatwick hotels had flourished unchecked.

Boosters of the liberty loving anglosphere should note the seemingly endless appetite of the public for new and strange laws and constant monitoring. Partly it's media hype. Fear sells papers, and enables them to build status by pushing the government into action. And it doesn't help that this particular government is particularly susceptible to media pressure.

But it also chimes with the political development of Labour generally. Supposedly, they have abandoned ideology for pragmatic, results oriented policies. But in rejecting the idea that applying a general political programme can bring benefits to people's lives they have committed themselves to the micro-management of everyday life. They don't know what's better for us in the wider sense, but they do "know" exactly what we should be doing at any given point in time. This is the logical outcome of a culture of monitoring and targets.

Given the general mess and contingency of everyday life, efforts to standardize behaviour will always tend towards failure. In response, the government blames the people at large for their lack of co-operation and redouble their efforts. Eventually, everything that is not forbidden becomes compulsory.