Something for Theresa May to think about
- The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 by J.M. Beattie
Oxford, 272 pp, £65.00, February 2012, ISBN 978 0 19 969516 4
In September 2010, the home secretary was warned that her plans to cut police funding could undermine their ability to deal with the tensions that would result from the government’s austerity package. ‘The British public,’ she replied, ‘don’t simply resort to violent unrest in the face of challenging economic circumstances.’ Less than a year later, attempting to explain the riots in London and elsewhere, she denied that some of the British public had resorted to violent unrest in the face of challenging economic circumstances. The criminal behaviour of the rioters – will we ever forget her explanation? – was caused by ‘sheer criminality’. The word ‘sheer’ did most of the work: the cause of criminality, Theresa May was arguing, was criminality itself. Boris Johnson was quick to agree. When did it become a test of ideological purity to be able to say with a straight face that poverty and unemployment have nothing to do with the causes of crime? Who was the first politician to argue (if it can be called an argument) that to believe in such a link was to insult the poor and unemployed who do not steal or cheat?