Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Magnificent Tony Blair

That's right, magnificent.

Tony Blair has been a friend of America through adversity that would have toppled a lesser man long ago. A liberal, yes, but a liberal with steadfast loyalty to his friend George W. Bush, who suffers similar vitriol from the worst elements of his own countrymen. A liberal who understands the nature of the enemy from without, and because of this has faced the wrath of the enemy within. A liberal who in the worst of times has risen to the occasion, much like our president. A liberal who we will not agree with all of the time, but one who holds to principles when they're most needed.

Tony Blair understands that the perversion of justice and capitulation to the dark elements will shake the foundation of society and threaten a nation. Once again, the Prime Minister takes a courageous stand in the face of bitter opposition: "Our citizens should not live in fear".

Those who criticise the new criminal justice measures, such as ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders), fail to understand that the most important freedom is that of harm from others.
Britain's troubles mirror those we face in America. Tony Blair's defense of the proposals is compelling, bold, and inspiring:

In advance of the publication of new proposals on anti-social behaviour and organised crime, we will once again, as a government, be under attack for eroding essential civil liberties. It is right to set this argument within a more coherent intellectual and political framework. It is not just about tough versus soft but about whose civil liberties come first.

Britain, by 1997, had undergone rapid cultural and social change in recent decades. Much of this was necessary and good. Rigid class divisions and old-fashioned prejudices were holding Britain back. But some social change had damaging and unforeseen consequences.

Family ties were weakened. Communities were more fractured, sometimes as a result of desirable objectives like social mobility or diversity, sometimes as the consequence of mass unemployment and failed economic policies. Civil institutions such as the church declined in importance. At the start of the 20th century, communities shared a strong moral code. By the end of the century this was no longer as true.
Spoken, actually, like a true conservative.

As society changed, so do did the nature of crime. There was an explosion in crime and, in particular, violence fuelled by drug abuse. There were far more guns in circulation and far less reluctance to use them. We saw the growth of new crimes such as people trafficking, computer fraud and mobile phone theft. Organised crime became a major international operation.

But while the world had moved on, the criminal justice system was stuck. By 1997, it was failing every reasonable test that could be applied. Crime had doubled. Trials were ineffective, witness protection was poor and the courts were very inefficient. There were huge delays, for example, between young criminals being charged and coming to court.

We thus inherited a system which was increasingly unable to deal with the problems it faced. Anti-social behaviour was becoming a very serious problem on some estates but the courts were too cumbersome a process to deal with it expeditiously. The system was failing.
He could easily be talking about America; we'll take a liberal who talks like this! Where is our Tony Blair?

On the left, by the 1980s, we had bent our argument too far in the opposite direction. We had come to be associated with the belief that the causes of crime are entirely structural. In defiance of our own traditions of thought we had eliminated individual responsibility from the account. We had lost sight, too, of the fact that it was those who depended most on a Labour Government to improve their lives who suffered most from crime and anti-social behaviour and were most insistent that we do more to help them.
Conservatives have been talking about these ideas for years. Sometimes the threshold for liberals to take notice is very high. Britain has suffered much pain at the hands of the underclass and criminal elements in the post-Thatcher years (Read Theodore Dalrymple for some firsthand accounts). Likewise, America has suffered, and continues to suffer. Unfortunately, even our most courageous politicians don't have the fortitude to tackle social problems at the street level in a tough and comprehensive way.

Our critics [ed.- liberals], who usually do not live in the communities most affected by crime and anti-social behaviour, often describe these measures as overly punitive and a threat to basic legal principles. We are criticised for introducing rough justice and removing courts from the sentencing process. In fact, we are very sensitive to the need to preserve accountability. Authority always has to be exercised with due restraint. We will ensure that good appeals processes are always built into new structures. The powers we have extended to the authorities can, and do, come under legal challenge.

But this is not a debate between those who value liberty and those who do not. It is an argument about the types of liberties that need to be protected given the changing nature of the crimes that violate them. And it is an attempt to protect the most fundamental liberty of all - freedom from harm by others.
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