Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pop stars and politics

Generally speaking, pop stars are fairly ignorant of politics and its underlying principles, but then they are not usually political anoraks (as many of us bloggers are). However, whilst this may apply to Richard Fairbrass—of the popular music combo, Right Said Fred—he is, at least, on the right side of the debate.

In a short film on the Daily Politics (about 1 hour and 12 minutes into today's show), he laments and attacks the government's continuing interference in our lives. There is no ranting and a decent amount of simply presented information.

I do have one gripe though: in the subsequent lives interview, Mr Fairbrass does opine that surveillance cameras in crime hotspots are justified—although he does not praise them with the same glee that the smug and odious Labour peer does. Both she and Fairbrass are, however, wrong on this point.
Under Labour the number of CCTV cameras has increased 8 times from 67 schemes with approximately 5,238 cameras in 1997 to an estimated 500 systems with 40,000 cameras in 2002. The problem is that CCTV is a placebo.

CCTV makes people feel safer but has no impact on actual crime levels or crime clear up rates. This is an overconfidence that has lead to real miscarrages of justice, luckily this is rarer than it might be because even with high quality systems it is hard to identify people from CCTV that you are not already familar with, and CCTV is very rarely of high quality.

Then there is the small matter that almost all of these supposed crime prevention schemes are themselves illegal. Real criminal know how useless they are though and have absolutely no fear of them. The law abiding however are not so lucky, CCTV may not be any good for reducing crime but they are perfectly good enough to let the operators play the peeping tom.

William Hague defended CCTV on the grounds that it allowed us to determine who the 7/7 bombers were and might, in certain circumstances, prevent other people from doing the same. This is a total fantasy.

The 7/7 bombers were not acting in an illegal manner: it is still perfectly legal to take a rucksack or bag onto public transport and, unless you are going to search the bag of every person on public transport—something which is unfeasible practically and offensive from a civil liberties point of view—then surveillance cameras will do no such thing.

I did enjoy Mr Fairbrass's description of politicians as "bad bouncers"—they are constantly there at your door, making their presence felt at all times, because they don't actually know how to do their job.


Anonymous said...

As a serving PC I read this post with interest. I'm in two minds about CCTV, mainly because of the civil liberties aspect but I have absolutely no doubt that it is a real help in solving street crime in particular. I could give you literally hundreds of instances in my own experience, in which CCTV has led directly to the arrest and charging of offenders and some in which CCTV gave the first inkling that an offence was taking place. It is invaluable in town centres when drink-fuelled brawling involving multiple victims, suspects and offenders is common. Trying to sort out who needs arresting and who should be statemented in the aftermath of such an incident can be a nightmare for the police without CCTV evidence. As for the chap at the cash point, the police would have done exactly the same if he'd simply been pointed out by a member of the public. It wasn't a "miscarriage of justice" it was a perfectly reasonable arrest of a legitimate suspect.Under the circumstances I would have done exactly the same thing. I'm obviously glad that the true facts were confirmed in due course. As for solving crime, I deal every day with offences which could not reasonably be solved any other way. No, I've still to make my mind up on CCTV and I'm not convinced by Fairbrass's argument.

Alan Dean said...

"Politicians are like bad bouncers - they don't know when to stop!"

A neat turn of phrase, I thought :-)

Should the new nickname for the PM be "Bouncer Brown", I wonder?

anthonynorth said...

CCTV is the supposed compromise for not having enough police on the street - and another example of tech leading to a more dictatorial society.

Anonymous said...

You are surely right to say that CCTV will not in itself prevent another 7/7.

However, the fact that those images were taken is good evidence that those particular people did carry out the plot. That's a necessary first step in combating Muslim extremism. Together with the video "confessions" of Khan (?) it undermines conspiracy theorist claims that already enjoy too much support in certain communities.

Of course, to be useful we have to follow through with step 2, something our betters are conspicuously failing to do.

And that seems to be the default position with CCTV in general. For example Theodore Dalrymple notes that in the absence of proper sentencing, surveillance by CCTV cameras is perfectly useless and merely a form of official voyeurism. Like many solutions to modern ills, we are afraid to really deal with the vectors but instead target the general population.

Not a sheep said...

CCTV is also being used to collect "taxes" by taking images of parked cars so as to be able to fine them as soon as they go 1 minute over their alloted stay in a space. New Labour, new sources of taxation.

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