What struck me was the gleeful attitude of the Prominent Liberal Democrat. He was not pleased that IDS had been the victim of a crime, but he was delighted that he had been caught not obeying police advice by leaving the briefcase in his car where it could be seen. Behind this was the implication that he had somehow been hypocritical: these Tories say they want to bring crime down, but look how they behave in practice.
I was too polite so say so at the time, but this seemed the wrong attitude to me. It ought to be possible to leave your briefcase in your car without it being stolen. To blame the victim of such a a crime seems perverse to me.
There has been a similar attitude displayed by some Lib Dems over the theft of David Cameron's bicycle. Both Dave Radcliffe and Paul Walter hold him responsible because he did not secure it properly. Neither thinks it worth condemning the thief.
The trouble with this approach of urging everyone to take maximum precautions against theft is that you end up with advice like this from today's Guardian:
- Buy inexpensive model for everyday use. Make it look unappealing by painting it an ugly colour.
Who wants to own a bicycle at all under such circumstances?
The same points arise in the debate over knife crime.
Before I went on holiday Paul Walter (hello again) called for a ban on the sale of "long pointed kitchen knives". Then, while I was away, the Lib Dems complained that no one was jailed for selling a knife to a child in England and Wales in the five years up to 2006. A party press release quoted Chris Huhne as saying:
"Unscrupulous shopkeepers who sell knives to kids are profiting from the violence on our streets. It is unacceptable that so few of them are being punished and those that do are being given such pitiful fines. If we are to tackle knife crime, a strong message must be sent to those who ply this deadly trade. Fining them a few hundred quid is not going to do that."The idea that it might be possible to raise a generation of young people who do not stab one another even when they have access to knives is wholly absent from this debate.
Yet, as my only semi-fictional alter ego wrote on the New Statesman website the other day:
These hills used to be alive with Boy Scouts and their knives, every ready to sharpen a tent peg or skin a rabbit. (They may have been skinning the pegs and sharpening the rabbits. My memory is hazy on this point.)The world that the current anti-crime movement envisages is something like a cross between a secure psychiatric hospital and an airport departure lounge. There are no sharp edges, in case we hurt ourselves or someone else, and to own or display something attractive is an invitation to have it stolen.
To escape this fate we need to start talking about morality again. We cannot go on treating every crime as a sign that something else needs to be banned or that the state has failed and therefore needs to spend even more money.
As a first step, we could try saying that it is wrong to steal someone else's bicycle.