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February 12 2012 1 12 /02 /February /2012 13:40


Recently I saw a tweet from a government MP saying that the government was about to ‘clamp down’ on scrap metal theft.  Now I personally am against scrap metal theft. It is also against my religion. Stealing anything has been taboo for my ancient and some would say outdated creed.   I have fond memories Johannesburg landmark from my childhood of a group of bronze springbok leaping over Openheimer Park in central Johannesburg. A few years back it was reduced by thieves to two flat bronze lumps on either side of the park. One winces at the thought of how much the thieves earned for the work of art vandalism compared to the value of a priceless sculpture.  The people responsible for that deserve to be clamped down.  Similarly those in this country who vandalize sculptures, roofs, fencing and other rich and available sources of scrappable metal deserve to be clamped down  upon. They are a menace and it is not right that those who assist them by fencing their illicit metals should profit. I would gladly join in clamping them down and pelting them with environmentally friendly renewable missiles.


Coming to the United Kingdom from South Africa it is always good to hear the country’s leaders expressing their willingness to fight and reduce crime. Yet after listening to Messrs Blair and Brown and their cohorts announcing clamp downs on every conceivable misdemeanour from money laundering to putting recyclable metals in the wrong bin I have serious reservations about clamp downs. The same goes for crack downs. The previous Labour government spend a lot of effort and money trying to clamp down on a lot of criminal activity and creating new activities worthy of being clamped down. This produced a tsunami of legislation clamping down and cracking down on all sorts of undesirable and now proscribed conduct.


In case anyone has noticed it has been against the law of this country to steal for a very long time. Theft was forbidden at common law and is forbidden by several parliamentary enactments. This legislation is supplemented by other legislation aimed at those who deal in stolen property or those who launder the proceeds of crime. The existing law bans stealing and dealing with pilfered scrap metals as much as it possibly can. We cannot make it any more forbidden to steal than it already is. We also have law enforcement agencies whose role it is to detect, prevent and fight criminal activity. Why can the police not ‘crack down’ or ‘clamp down’ on scrap metal theft? If their resources were improved would it help them to deal more effectively with metal thieves?


A large amount of crime does not get detected. We see our government rationalising police resources because of lack of money. Creating some bureaucratic structure for scrap metal dealers to monitor their sources as we do for lawyers, accountants and the like would be an administrative nightmare and a failure.


We have no crack downs on rape, terrorism and illegal dog racing. We have police, courts, prisons and probation. Why do we not leave the cracking down to them?


What crack downs and clamp downs are, in effect, are governments saying they are going to do something to improve society. After all that is what they have supposedly been elected to do. However actually changing anything is very difficult, particularly when it comes to character and society. Accordingly governments work on how they can get re-elected and can claim they are improving something for somebody somewhere.


This can all be explained by looking at the actions of a former government minister from a psychological point of view. Some years ago a lord chancellor, as they were known in those old days when New Labour still seemed new, spent a very large amount of government money on very expensive wall paper. Most critics were disturbed at what seemed to be egoistic excess. In fact his actions represented the true colours of his government, and in fact, many other governments. Governments spend an inordinate amount of time energy and money decorating the externals to make them attractive. The bulk of legislation that governments in this country fling at the public are nothing more than exterior decorating. We cover over the problems that face us with comprehensively fitting wall paper, or as a certain A Blair used to put it ‘legislation to tackle’. What this actually means is that governments wish to be perceived as taking action. They never actually identify the percipients, but there is a vague intimation that the ‘public’ will ‘see’ what the government are purporting to try to be seen doing. Consequently governments do what they can do, make pronouncements and introduce legislation. Laws get passed and life stays the same for everybody. Victims have metal stolen from them. Thieves find a ready market, and the police, CPS and defence world struggles their way through ever complicated behemothic (?) legal structures. More money is spent and then we can create statistics of what other measures we have taken under  which legislation to show well that ‘we’ have done something.


Politicians will always be happy with clamp downs and crack downs because not only can they claim that justice is seen to be done but that it is being made to seem as if it is being done. Why do we not just allocate more resources to the police, prosecutors and probation? Let us hope that the current government will not simply continue to mirror the previous government in window dressing, or wall papering. 

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