Tuesday, April 12, 2011

'A stoke of genius' in the Carlyle Hotel: Tough on crime, Tough on the causes of crime

The Harper Tories look south to the neocon Republicans as their model, and have tried to grab the issue of crime as theirs.

Once again, Harper's Tories resort to the Big Lie. They simply lable themselves as being tough on crime, and say the other parties are soft on crime. Harper hopes if he repeats this over and over and over, it will stick.

And it often works!

But one day in late 1992 a progressive politician sat at the bar of the Carlyle Hotel in New York with his fellow warrior to ponder the ability of their opponents to frame the crime issue in the same way, and to use that framing to wipe the floor with them. 

Both of these two men were destined to become prime minister of Britain, one very successfully and the other for brief moment before he crashed and burned.

This is how Tony Blair describes in his autobiography A Journey – My Political Life the brainwave on the crime issue that came to Gordon Brown that day at the Carlyle:

I explained my essential approach: we should of course stress social conditions and be radical in dealing with them, but we also had to be tough on crime itself. We should make this into a Labour issue by combining a traditional and a modern stance.

This is where Gordon ... would show a streak of genius. "You mean 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,'" he said.

"Yes," Isaid, stunned by the brilliance of it, "that's exacly what I mean."

And so it became my slogan, but unusually for a slogan, actually enscapsulated a philosophical insight. Shortly after returning, I used it in a speech and really never looked back.

Pretty soon, I had the Tories reeling under the onslaught, surprised and somewhat disbelieving that a Labour person could steal "their" issue, but rather admiring the way it was done.

The Carlyle Hotel New York
Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton could take a leaf from Blair's book on the framing of the crime issue.

Harper's Tories have jumped on the Liberal Party on the crime issue, trying – like the UK Tories – to make it "their"  issue, as Ira Basen of the CBC reported:

But it's a different story when it comes to crime.

The Liberal platform has a section called Stronger Safer Communities that criticizes the Harper government's "narrow preoccupation" with "punishing crime and exploiting fear."

It talks about providing affordable housing and fighting poverty as a way of dealing with some of these social problems. But it is silent on all of the red-meat, law and order issues that the Conservative government has been pushing for the past five years.

For its part, the Conservatives offer a five-page chapter called Here for Law-Abiding Canadians that outlines in considerable detail all that they have done and plan to do to ensure that this is a country where law-abiding Canadians "don't have to worry when they go to bed at night; where they don't have to look over their shoulders as they walk down the street, where they can expect to find their cars where they parked it."

It begins: "Since we were first elected in 2006, Stephen Harper's Government has made tackling crime one of our highest priorities. The Ignatieff-led Coalition - true to its soft-on-crime ideology - has resisted and blocked our efforts..."

The beauty of the Blair framing – Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime – is that it allows the Liberals and NDP to counter the Harper "soft on crime" schtick, while at the same time pointing out that there is a need to address the causes of crime.

Just working one side of the two-way street, as Harper's Tories are doing, leads to the simplistic answers of the neocons down south: Build more prisons, lock people up in them, and throw away the key.

So now we see the Harper prize policy: massive jails, costing billions, but very little spending on trying to root out the causes of crime.

Time to borrow from Blair and outflank them.

Go for it, Michael and Jack.

Take this issue back from the Tories.

The Real Ballot Question on May 2

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