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ASBOs, power and local Tories

Some young people having a chat out in the fresh air and not just eating chips and using their computer

So ASBOs are on their way out after 13 years of  ‘Do they work or don’t they?’ and ‘Is individual civil liberty more important than group well-being?’.

On balance, I’m glad they’re going, because although the latter question is a pertinent enough one in any city, town and village, its reduction to those dichotomous terms loses sight of the power structures that lie behind the execution of at least some ASBOs. 

But it is only ‘on balance’ that I’m glad.

ASBOs can, when they become part of the ‘governance structure’ in neighbourhoods, be as much about the power to tell people how to live their lives as about stopping behaviour which really impinges upon other residents’ well-being. 

After all, young people standing around in a street late at night talking to each other, using colourful language, is a lauded cultural aspect of Las Ramblas, Barcelona. 

And I wonder why the picture above, copied from Alan Johnson’s  Comment is Free piece this morning (Matt Cardy/Getty images), is used by the Guardian.  The young people seem to be having a chat, just like I do sometimes when I meet people at the playground after school, and I never thought I deserved an ASBO.

That’s not to say that there isn’t real anti-social behaviour which does affect other people’s lives signficantly, and this needs to be dealt with appropriately through the development of generally accepted social boundaries, agreement on which should come from all ‘sides’ in neighbourhoods, such that young people do not become victims of newly legitimized police or civilian vigilante justice under the goverment’s new policing-by-community plans.

In this respect, the idea of the ‘community organiser’ whose job it is to facilitate just such agreements is an attractive one, but one which I suspect is likely to remain an aspiration as these 5,000 community organisers – if they ever do appear – are drawn straight into the existing culture of control that has developed around ASBOs.  My fear is that we’ll actually end up in a worse place than before, with informal sanctions against young people backed by the policing authorities and whatever judicial rights there were in the ASBO process lost to the (mostly) young people concerned lost along the way.

Even so, I’m glad ASBOs are going from my area (West Lancashire), not just because of the neighbourhood power structure issues I’ve identified above, or because it removes the ‘badge of honour’ dilemma for young people, but because of the ‘just look how hard we are’ abuse my Tory local authority has made of a process that has legitimately been called into question, but which was not established so that rightwing men in suits could parade in public their power and disdain for those less fortunate than them. 

Eighteen months ago, this issue came out at No.1 in my Top Twenty Tory Travesties of 2008 in my local blog:

And at number one, for sheer callousness, for sheer insensitivity for the lives real people have to live, things must take a darker turn, darker even than the catalogue of deliberate betrayal mixed with incompetence set out above. 

I’ve not blogged about this yet, because to be honest I felt a bit sick when I first read what I read in the paper, and I’ve left it till I could try and look at it from a small remove.  It still makes me feel sick, but here goes…..

I refuse on principle to link to the newspaper article itself, as that would provide personal details again, while I am arguing that they should have never have been splashed all over a paper in the first place. 

However, it concerns a child, aged 16, given a long term ASBO.  The actual paper carried a big picture of the girl.  Some of acts of anti-social behaviour which led to the ASBO were committed in previous years, when she was less than 16.  Yet the paper, basing its coverage on a Council press release, gives all her personal details, and carries gloating quotes from  a Conservative councillor about how great their actions have been.

An ASBO is a civil matter, brought by the District Council.  Had the girl in fact been convicted of criminal offences, my understand of English law is that her identity would have been protected until the point of conviction. 

In this case she has not been convicted of any crime.  Yet, because it’s an ASBO, the Council is allowed to do what it wants, and it takes great pleasure in doing just that. Now compare this Council reaction to a civil matter disposed of in court to the 100s of actual criminal acts that the Leader of the Council says has been perpetrated in the Tawd Valley (see No. 4 of this list), but over which, and over the consequences of which the Council now has apparently no control!

An ASBO is one thing, and perhaps justified in this case – I don’t know enough to comment – and I am certainly not seeking to belittle the effect her ‘anti-social’ actions may have had on neighbours.  But remember again, we are not dealing with criminal act here in the legal sense – no criminal charges were brought, as far as I’m aware.

So is the Council’s reaction commensurate when compared to its shoulder shrug of indifference to 100s of ‘criminal acts’ carried out in its District?  I don’ t think so. 

Are we in fact dealing with absurdly ’macho’ behaviour by a vile Conservative Council unable to do its proper job properly, towards a girl who may be no angel, but whose life may be ruined by the press attention?  Is that pretty sick? Yes, that’s exactly what it is.

And that, therefore, is number one travesty in my book. 

Because lives count, because reality counts, because serving residents properly counts.  All the rest, West Lancashire District Conservative Council, is froth, and you have much to be ashamed of about your performance in 2008.

I wonder what hypocrisies these local Tory thugs will come out with now.

(See also good contributions from Paul Sagar and Salman at The Third Estate on this matter.

  1. josie kelly
    July 29, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    ‘Is individual civil liberty more important than group well-being?’This question is the heart of all current political debates. How these two seemingly opposites – individual civil liberty and group well-being – are to be reconciled should be central to what a future Labour government should be about. Shamefully and sadly there has been much about fairness (whatever that means) and similar vacuous nonsense from the 5 candidates but I’ve not seen any serious attempt by their respective campaigns to engage with this question in practical policy terms.

  2. Valerie Henderson
    September 2, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Hello Paulinlancs
    I agree with your views. My son has been living under the fear of getting an ASBO or even eviction by the council. He is a severe epileptic who suffers mental health problems after seizures which he has up to 4 times a month. His behaviour can become difficult after seizures. He is ILL and this does not seem to be understood by our police. I do hope that if something else is put in place that some more consideration would be given to someone who is ILL.


  1. August 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm
  2. June 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm

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