A SENSE of deepening anarchy hangs over Britain.
The very fabric of our democracy and civilised order now appears to be under threat.
Our streets are plagued by blood-soaked violence and extremist demonstrations.
Thugs display contempt for human life, protesters for the law.
Events at the weekend were typical of this descent into chaos and savagery.
In Birmingham, a knife-wielding brute went on the rampage through the city centre, killing one victim and injuring seven others.
Despite the appalling nature of his attacks, the police were remarkably slow to react.
His lethal spree reportedly lasted for just under two hours on Saturday night, and even though he remained at large throughout Sunday, police did not even issue a description of him until the evening.
Climate tyrants silencing the free press
Just as unimpressive was the response to the outrageous attempt by the radical environmental group Extinction Rebellion (XR) to shut down a large part of Britain’s newspaper industry, including The Sun.
With a self-righteous arrogance matched by disdain for freedom of expression, this bunch of eco-loons used vehicles and bamboo structures to block the roads at printworks in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and Knowsley near Liverpool.
As a result of XR’s weapons of mass obstruction, both the production and distribution of leading national titles were severely delayed.
XR’s behaviour represented the worst of the cancel culture.
It was a shameless attempt by unelected, unaccountable ideologues to impose their hardline agenda and silence debate.
Given the scale of the damage to freedom of speech, the police showed a worrying lack of urgency.
At the Broxbourne printworks, the Hertfordshire Constabulary initially sent just six officers to deal with over a hundred demonstrators.
The Chief Constable Owen Weatherill even struck a pacific rather than a defiant note, declaring that his force is “committed to facilitating peaceful protest.”
When greater vigour was adopted, it still took the Hertfordshire police six hours even to begin removing the troublemakers.
Slipping into terminal decline
This is the pattern of our times. While the authorities cower and hesitate, the bullies hold the public to ransom.
It should not be like this. After all, the Tories are meant to be the party of law and order.
But today they preside over worsening mayhem and institutional paralysis.
In London at the weekend, there were no fewer than 12 stabbings, five of them in the leafy, previously tranquil suburb of Bexleyheath.
At the same time, the continual cycle of protests drags on, despite the Covid restrictions that are meant to prohibit major gatherings.
Apart from the Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter events, there have also been rallies in recent days by organisations ranging from the far right to opponents of lockdown, as well as scores of illegal raves.
Under siege in this atmosphere of mounting crisis, the embattled Home Secretary Priti Patel tries to give the impression of toughness by promising changes in the law.
Writing about Extinction Rebellion’s antics, she said: “I will be looking at every opportunity available, including primary legislation, to ensure that a full suite of tools is available to tackle this behaviour.”
As the Home Office revealed, one possible step is to designate Extinction Rebellion as “an organised crime” gang and therefore subject to tougher penalties.
Another is to amend the Public Order Act, so that parts of the civic infrastructure essential to democracy, like newspaper printworks or Parliamentary buildings, are given specific statutory protection.
The prospect of legal changes has become the frequent solution of the Home Secretary.
The legislative crackdown is a key ingredient in her political armoury.
As the number of illegal migrant crossings of the Channel reached a record in August, for instance, she pledged a review of the law to tackle the people smuggling operations.
Time for tougher enforcement
But this is all a monumental distraction.
The problem is not the law, but the willingness of the authorities to enforce it rigorously.
We don’t need the creation of yet more criminal offences to restore order. What we require is the smack of firm Government.
In the mid-1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was confronted by the twin challenges of the illegal picketing by Arthur Scargill’s striking coalminers and the drive by the print unions to force the closure of The Sun and The Times' newspaper plant at Wapping in London, she did not prattle about changing the law.
She galvanised the police into doing their job of allowing commerce to function.
The state already has easily sufficient powers to deal with knife-wielding criminals or groups like Extinction Rebellion, as proved by the wave of arrests at Broxbourne when the police finally went into action.
Almost 80 protestors were charged with aggravated trespass or obstructing the highway.
Calls for a change in the law are so often nothing more than gesture politics, designed to give the illusion of action while avoiding genuine rigour.
In this way, the law becomes, not a buttress of civilisation, but an instrument of propaganda.
Characteristic of this approach came after a recent protest at the Cenotaph, in which a vandal tried to set fire to the Union Jack.
More than 100 Tory MPs demanded a special new law which would impose a mandatory 10-year jail term on anyone vandalising a war memorial.
But exactly such a punishment already exists. Under Section 1 of the 1971 Criminal Damage Act, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment can be given to any person who “destroys or damages any property belonging to another”, or is even just “reckless” about the risks of causing damage.
Suffocated by statutes
Britain is drowning in legislation to tackle crime and disorder. There is absolutely no call for any more.
By my own estimate, in the last 20 years alone, Parliament has passed no fewer than 273 primary and secondary pieces of legislation with “Criminal Justice” in the title, including five major Criminal Justice Acts.
One academic study of Tony Blair’s premiership reckoned that his Government created 3,600 new offences.
What is really missing is the moral authority to uphold the existing law.
Criminals and protestors act with impunity because the agencies of the state, including the Government, the police and the courts, are so weak.
In this climate of timidity, no additional sanctions would be of any use.
That reality is exposed by the “two strikes and you’re out” law on knife possession, which was meant to require jail terms for repeat offenders.
Yet the Ministry of Justice revealed in June that a third of those convicted for a second knife offence are spared jail.
It is the same story with the “three strikes and you’re out” law for habitual burglars, introduced with a fanfare by the last Labour Government.
Criminals with a third conviction for burglary are supposed to be jailed for three years, but since 2015 little more than a quarter of such repeat offenders have been put behind bars, making a mockery of the law.
This feebleness can be found everywhere in the failing Government machine.
While Ministers boast of future crackdowns, just seven per cent of all offences end with a suspect in court.
Illegal immigration is already a serious crime, yet for all Priti Patel’s tough talk, deportations are down over the last year by 34 per cent.
The Home Office was forced to admit that “the number of enforced returns was at its lowest since records began.”
More hollow talk can be found in the failure to tackle welfare abuses and errors, which have risen by more than 20 per cent to a record £4.5 billion.
Under the 1992 Social Security Administration Act, anyone found to be dishonestly obtaining benefits can be jailed for up to seven years.
Yet when Manchester mother of eight Saaba Mahmood was convicted last month of pocketing almost £100,000 in illegal benefits for relatives in Pakistan, she was spared prison and just sent on a taxpayer-funded course.
Desperate need for morality
In some respects, Britain is sliding back towards the 18th century, when there was the same addiction to tough laws – on paper.
The brutal penal code included 220 offences that carried the death penalty, including “stealing a rabbit” and “wrecking a fishpond.”
But because there was no proper police or prison service, the law was inconsistently enforced and so fell into disrepute.
That all changed in the 19th century, after Sir Robert Peel established the world’s first proper police force, and a network of modern jails was created.
As crime plummeted, the penal code was slashed, with just five capital offences remaining by 1861.
The absence of a flood of laws was regarded by the Victorians as a triumph of morality and good order.
We need some of that same spirit today, not another deluge of legislation.
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