And why not?  It gets a good clap from the sort of core Tories that go to Spring Conference.  Die hard miserabilists.  But as Philip Collins fisks, not necessarily a good idea:

The trouble with “broken Britain” rhetorically is that it gives real fire to speeches now and ruins every speech three years into government. This list of awful things will be replayed time and again if none of them gets better.

And what are the list of awful things?

“And some people say to me that I’m wrong to talk about the broken society, but I say when you’ve got the highest rate of family breakdown in Europe, when you’ve got one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, when there are a million violent crimes committed every year, when there are 100 knife crimes committed every day, when a seven- year-old child starves to death in Birmingham, our second biggest city, and no one does anything about it, which bit of broken society don’t these people understand?”

I (obviously) hate this sort of thing: out of context stats.  So what is the right number of violent crimes for a country of 60 million?  900,000 would be a great result in 5 years’ time, but that would still sound huge.  Teenage pregnancy has fallen since the 1960s – what bugs the Tories is that they don’t then get into teenage marriages (which then produce record divorce levels).   What is the right number of knife crimes per day?  Can the Tories guarantee that no child anywhere will be mistreated by a parent, anywhere?  If it happens in one place, will that indict the rest of the 60m society that thinks it is not broken?

Would it have been better if the child had starved in the 12th biggest city?

Cameron blows his whistle very skilfully, but this doesn’t draw dogs from outside his core.  It’s for those who are already thinking what he’s thinking.

(PS.  If the economy stays broken, I doubt any attempts to fix society will work.  This means Cameron thinking harder about QE).


17 thoughts on “Cameron sticks with ‘broken Britain’

  1. Certainly the average number in developed countries of this size is considerably lower, & being average might be a reasonable target to hope for.

    However I agree this is a tactical mistake on the Tories part. They cannot credibly make promises to vastly cut crime in the short term. The long term answer would involve having families with fathers which they are ginerly embracing but which is not an unalloyed vote winner. That also brings up the “family values” anthill which nobody in public life should wish to awaken again.

    More importantly not only is the economy the overriding issue but it is something on which they clearly can do something if they are willing to & on which Labour have spectacularly failed. One should play to one’s strengths.

    1. And ‘having families with fathers’ is not some lever you can pull. If you could, I would pull it, despite the illiberalism. It is the fatuousness of them seeming to promise something by the sheer force of moral outrage….

      1. You could pull it (not all the way) with tax & welfare alterations & the Tories are sort of promising the former. However it will take at least a decade for what the lever operates to swing & at least a generation for it to affect the generation of young criminals. This does not mean it shouldn’t be done, quite the opposite, just that it isn’t an easy electoral fix. And yes you are right about the moral outrage – it is not credible if you aren’t going to do something about it.

      2. Where has that worked? Does it work in the US?

        I am rather sceptical about T&B incentives fighting a massive social change.

      3. Well Singapore, where everything is done for social; engineering & good orrder. comes at the very low end of this murder list.
        Most of our European neighbours are doing better than us. Even the US, despite having a murder rate disproportionate to other crimes seems to have falling crime rates.

        The countries at the top are mainly African or South American ones where the welfare system is not much of an issue but neither is catching criminals & I would expect catching & pubnishing criminals is the prime determinant – but we do ok at catching them.

      4. I never trust comparisons with something half the size of London and run as an authoritarian state; also, crime rates are falling in the UK (of course people can go all conspiracy theory on that point, but the same sort of surveys establish the US precedent).

        I agree many others are doing better than us; just not sure what the policy prescritption is. At conference, someone asked ‘can’t we be like France’, which posed the question ‘how big would the Act of Parliament be?’

      5. Policy prescription: move towards a more social democratic society with a lower Gini coeff.

        I think there a few Lib Dem policies that might help there….

  2. I despair that an intelligent man, in a position of (admittedly minor) influence, can suggest that 900,000 violent crimes might be a ‘great result’.

    It might be better than a million, but that’s like saying amputation below the knee is a ‘great result’ compared with above. Less bad, maybe – and only then in context of a choice between two unwelcome medical certainties.

    You ask what is ‘the right number of violent crimes for a country of 60 million’? The answer is prettyy obvious: Zero.

    Of course, this would be unattainable in any society – let alone a (still just about) liberal democracy.

    Because of this unattainability, if Cameron had promised zero violent crimes you’d have been absolutely right to criticise him for it.

    But he didn’t.

    He didn’t say, either, there was a ‘right’ number of violent crimes.

    He just said (in terms) that a million was wrong.

    Perhaps you could engage him on what he actually said, rather than what he didn’t say, and tell us what it is about this that you disagree with?

    Are you suggesting that just because he didn’t suggest a ‘right’ number, this means there are no ‘wrong’ numbers?

    In context of 100 knife crimes a day, you ask (knowing no answer was implied, except ‘fewer’ – with which you presumably agree?): ‘What is the ‘right number of knife crimes per day?’

    You don’t address the real issue – that 100 is clearly the wrong number. (Unless – logically and bizarrely – you think 100 IS the right number?)

    It’s not hard: 100 is wrong, 120 would be wronger, 80 would be better, but still wrong.

    Zero would be right, but unattainable; thus, the only ‘right’ number, in the real world, is as close as we can get to zero without imposing martial law and spending untold billions more on law enforcement (which wouldn’t achieve zero, anyway).

    There are serious and interesting arguments to be had about whether the current expenditure is too low, or too high, how any expenditure should be applied and where we strike a balance between law and order and personal freedom (even where personal freedom leads to murder), but you apparently prefer not to have these arguments; you would rather – dog whistles calling kettles black, to mix metaphors – attack Cameron for pointing out that a million violent crimes a year, vastly up from ‘the 1960s’ (the decade you choose), says something uncomfortable about the development of our society.

    And the figures are pretty clear: between 1960 and 1970, the number of indictable offences per 1,000 population rose from under 20 to around 30. The latest easily available figures show it at around 95 – between three and four times higher.

    In 1965, the murder rate was 6.5 per million. Last year it was 12 per million – a figure which should be read in light of the fact that medical techniques are vastly superior to those in place in 1965, and that we have a falling birth rate and an ageing population (the most likely homicide victims are babies, the least likely the elderly).

    ‘Can the Tories guarantee that no child anywhere will be mistreated by a parent, anywhere?’ No, but – again – I must have missed the part in Cameron’s speech where he said they could? Can the Liberal Democrats, as a matter of interest?

    On teenage pregnancy, the main difference between now and the 1960s – the Tory marriage red herring aside – is that it is now much easier for young women to bring up their children without support from the father, and much easier for the father to evade his responsibility to pay for his child(ren). This caused problems during the fake boom times; during the real austerity which seems likely to arrive, it may be ultimately unsustainable.

    1. Hi Dan

      Please don’t despair. I’m an optimist; I would like everyone to be one. How lucky we are to be alive now, and not 50 years ago Etc etc.

      “tell us what it is about this that you disagree with?”

      OK, I will. I despair of using this technique:

      “There are X many <> going on in our country”

      Why? Because any amount of progress in reducing <> will still leave you with a very large number. If X sounds horrible to the outraged Tory Core, so will 0.5 * X, or 0.1X. How does ‘100,000 violent crimes’ sound? Horrible. Why? because it is an out of context quote. But 100,000 would mean a massive reduction, virtual nirvanna, our police being inundated with crime wonks from across the world trying to learn our secret, and so on. (in fact, it would have to mean a suddenly massive authoritarian state, but there you go)

      “‘Can the Tories guarantee that no child anywhere will be mistreated by a parent, anywhere?’ No, but – again – I must have missed the part in Cameron’s speech where he said they could? Can the Liberal Democrats, as a matter of interest?”

      No, but standing up there and using this as a reason to vote Tory …. does it not imply that voting Tory will do something about <>? Or will it just mean ‘we will fulminate more regularly about this than our cowardly opponents’?

      I agree that it is relative changes that matter, and over the long period since, say, 1965 – of which 45 years, about half have been Tory, half Labour – many societal indicators have changed. ALso, see many posts passim, I think the changes need to be seen in a broader context, of more freedom for women for example leading to changing marriage figures. I do not ‘prefer not to have these arguments’ – click through Miserabilism to see what I mean. I also favour a very long term viwe for things like murder. a couple of 100 years ago and before, murder was significantly likely. It became terribly unlikely about 80 years ago, and has continued to be with some movement up in 40 years.

      I would perhaps want to know what you would bring in to make fathers take their responsibilities, but don’t want to be provocative. Thanks for visiting.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Giles.

    You despair of the ‘technique’ of saying ‘a million violent crimes a year is too many’ because ‘any amount of progress in reducing that number will still leave you with a very large number’?

    I’m boggling a bit here – help me out?

    Surely it is a very strange mindset indeed which precludes the identification of a problem because it is impossible to provide a perfect solution – particularly, if I may say so, for a man who is economist, a party political activist and self-proclaimed optimist?

    It is also a very strange thing to believe that to move from one million violent crimes a year to 900,000 would be so ‘massive’ a reduction that it would inevitably require the imposition of ‘a suddenly massive authoritarian state’.

    Apart from anything else, if you believe the Home Office and British Crime Survey figures (and I know you do, from reading other posts), violent crime is already falling dramatically by the sort of percentages you claim could only be achieved by a British Stasi. Perhaps there is one, but if there is they are very secret police indeed.

    Can you explain why it should be that in order to travel just a small way back along the continuum between 1965 and 2010, ‘massive authoritarianism’ would be necessary? You demand evidence of Cameron: well, where’s yours for this? And if it is really your view that only the imposition of a virtual police state can lower crime, how do you explain your belief in the official stats? And how do you call yourself an optimist?

    You really should move away from your ‘outraged Tory core’ meme, too; the Tory core might be outraged by crime, but so is the Labour core – in my experience, more so. Sure, the Labour you see on the telly isn’t, because it tends not to live in the back streets of Stoke or Burnley or Glasgow; but ask the good folk who inhabit the housing estates plagued by criminals.

    I suppose Liberal Democrats (I’m stereotyping, obviously, but you started it) do tend to be bearded head teachers, provincial GPs and villagers from the West Country – people for whom crime might be a more abstract concept than it is for others. So perhaps you are speaking to your own party’s core vote, and this explains your odd position. (But then again, perhaps you are – with respect – a typical Lib Dem intellectual, allowed to think the unthinkable because you will never have to see it in action?

    What would I do about absent fathers?

    Force them to pay for their children, if necessary by giving their benefits to the mothers.

    Concomitantly, take away the incentives to teenage parenthood (which really do exist, out here in the real world if not in the Ivory Towers of the LSE).

    Alongside this, improve our schools, give kids better sex education, and bring in the £10k tax rate you guys have been suggesting – the only policy you have ever come up with that makes me think twice about voting Lib Dem (it’s that good).

    No, it wouldn’t be perfect and yes, some people would have terrible lives. But they already do.

    Yes, it would be complicated, but if we’re wedded to a state solution (which we appear to be, as opposed to saying: you’re an adult now, your kid, your responsibility) it will be by definition complicated. Since children really are our future, it’s worth being complicated where they are concerned.

    1. “Surely it is a very strange mindset indeed which precludes the identification of a problem because it is impossible to provide a perfect solution”

      I am criticising the rhetorical technique! Not ‘the identification of the problem’! Cameron has discovered a way of ‘identifying the problem’ that would leave his rhetoric virtually unchanged regardless of any level of success in dealing with it. If America managed to get down to 1m violent crimes pa, a huge drop, it would still sound just as shocking, because of the shocking quality of the phrase “a million violent crimes”.

      I thought my comment said down to 100,000 would imply autoritarianism, sorry if I got that wrong.

      So yes, I do think crime is falling. And yet at the same time Cameron can stand up and declaim “Broken Britain”, despite it being better than under Major in several regards. And if he then achieved miracles and halved all the bad figures, someone using out of context stats could do the same to him. Shows what a dreadful technique this is ….

      I find your ideas for absent fathers interesting. And I agree about improving schools. I’m going to vote against anyone threatening the opposite. Also on sex ed. I didn’t come up with 10k, btw ;-). I’m not speaking to a party here: CF is non-party (read what we say about tuition fees). This is really very little to do with Lib Dems – Nick Clegg can be just as miserabilist when he feels like it

      got to go

  4. Ah – apologies re the 100,000/900,000 – I was referring to your original post and had speed read your response.

    I don’t agree, mind you. I think ‘Broken Britain’ is a crass soundbite, but we sadly live in that world now. It’s really shorthand – no different to your own ‘miserablists’ to describe people with whom you disagree.

    If you strip the soundbite away, all Cameron was saying is that a million violent crimes was awful. He didn’t mention – straw man – 100,000, and so wasn’t saying it was attainable, or would or would not be terrible.

    Equally, it is entirely possible for him to criticise the current position while acknowledging (and I don’t know whether he would or not do so) that in some respects things are better now than they were ‘under Major’. But who cares? You’re the only person mentioning Major – having switched from your original preferred decade of the 1960s because of the inconvenient truth it produces: that crime is far worse now (as it was under Major) than it was in the 1960s.

    Re rhetoric, it seems you want a total ban on any public utterance unless it is supplemented by footnotes and appendices (to prevent it being ‘out of context’). Well, yes, but I’m not sure the public is quite ready for Chavez-length speeches, yet.

    Re improving schools, I kind of took it for granted that the unspoken question was how you do this, not simply that you would want to.

    Re the 10k tax, by ‘you guys’ I meant Lib Dems generally, not you specifically. I know you don’t agree on tuition fees – I agree with you there, and not Clegg.

    1. You see (artlessly trying to wind up this discussion and recall what the post was actually about), we are not actually that far apart. Broken Britain is a crass soundbite, that in P Collins’ words leaves hostages to fortune. The rhetorical method DC uses leaves him vulnerable to someone coming back in 4 years saying “DC said that we had a broken society and that we needed the Conservatives to come in. He never said that after 4 years of a Conservative government we would still have 960,000 violent crimes a year and [fill in list of things that might go wrong, particularly with far lower budgets to deal with them. especially poverty and inequality]’

      I certainly don’t want to ban any public utterances. liberal…… I am a wonk criticising misleading populism. That’s what we do. If we didn’t engage with political crassness, we would be failing in our jobs.

  5. Haha
    Record Teenage Marriages, nice one. Oh and give them the power to carry fire arms in public. The neo-con’s sense of style is totally bizarre, i mean what we see on CSI:Miami is actually the best of that would you believe.

    I’d still rather be more Jeremy Kyle than Ricky Lake.

    Oh and we’ve been 61 million for a while now.

    1. in a few years’ time no doubt some spark in Central Office will suggest incentives to give birth in order to stop the population having its vertiginous decline.

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