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April 06, 2005

Comments

dsquared

Dammit. The missus has her singing lesson that night and I'm on babysitting duty, but could you pick up a brochure if you're going?

jamie

Nope, not going. It's a bit of a long haul from Manchester, even in a good cause, especially without a car...

Why not take the kid along? Start 'em young...

dsquared

He's antisocial, unfortunately. Although, thinking about it, "the antisocial" will be fairly well represented (although it is "the friends" meeting house, so presumably they'll have a lot to talk about) so it might not be my kind of a gig anyway. If they hold the second meeting on a less antisocial night I will be there like Flynn, 'cos it's just down the road from me.

ASBOs actually make a certain amount of sense in a world where it is no longer acceptable to simply give coppers the discretion to shove people around for being a "known bad lot". But Camden Council has recently jumped the shark and started throwing them around like confetti.

My suggestion would be that, since the point of the ASBO is to allow the police to move on drug dealers and thugs, the utility of the ASBO must have sharply diminishing returns once there are too many of them for an average rozzer to be absolutely certain who's on one or not. Therefore, no local authority should be allowed to have more ASBOs outstanding than their designated "Keeper of the ASBOs" can memorise by heart.

The Keeper of the ASBOs is a ceremonial office I have just invented to confuse future archaeologists. I see him walking round the borough in a red topcoat and yellow tricorn hat, shouting "Oyez, Oyez, I am the Keeper of the ASBOs!". The idea being that any citizen can accost him, poke him in the tum and demand "Keeper, list your ASBOs!". He then has to sing the national anthem and ring a bell (to draw attention that a Listing Of The ASBOs is about to take place) and recite the list of ASBOs from memory. At the end of the list, he has to say "These be the ASBOs of the London Borough of Camden, on my honour as the Keeper of the ASBOs of Camden!". Anyone within earshot of this whose ASBO was not recited on the list, is entitled to consider it rescinded. The whole thing will be recorded on CCTV in case of arguments.

Backword Dave

In that case, Daniel, could you say anything pertinent about David Aaronovitch's observations re Kings Cross drug-dealers. Your neck of the woods, give or take, yes?

jamie

One problem with ASBOs is that they seem to contribute to the thinly concealed megalomania of local copuncillors. Decca Aitkenhead interviewed the lead councillor responsible for ASBO policy in Manchester, who happens to represent my ward, and whose name, embarrasingly, I forget.

Anyway, he was raving about using them as a positive instrument by which the "community" could impose higher standards of discipline on...well, on itself. Crime is the pretext for people like that, not the reason. Not surprisingly, Manchester pioneered their use and now it seems to be their main weapon in a kind of low intensity guerilla warfare against the citizenry at large.

Yes, Keeper of the ASBO's has a nice heritage ring. Maybe all measures that increase the power of officials, elected or otherwise, should be enacted on the privision that the same officials should be made to look sartorially or otherwise ridiculous.

What I'd do is employ a Siberian shaman. His job would be to consumer powerful psychoactive mushrooms and then pee into a glass. When the local authority wants to argue for an ASBO, the person responsible should have to drink the glass of shaman urine and then, under the influence of the hallucinogen, explain to a magistrate exactly why the community would benefit.

dsquared

It is my neck of the woods. I would hemi-semi-demi agree with Aaronovitch's source (though I cannot work out what his newspaper would be; the local rag for King's Cross would be either the Camden New Journal or the Camden Chronicle; I suspect that Aaronovich read it in the Ham & High, which I don't take).

The dealers at King's Cross were not suppressed by ASBOs; they were cracked down on the old-fashioned way, by bumping up the police presence. The building works for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link also helped, because as a result of them the whole area is much better lit and the local streets are much more crowded. That's why this bloke's "doorway" is clear.

However, the crackdown in King's Cross sent a lot of them over to Camden Town and Somers Town, which genuinely is "my manor" insofar as I have a manor. In Camden Town it's a matter of running enforcement and harm management; because of Camden Market there is not so much of a problem of violence because we're a massive net exporter of drugs (as in, people from outside the borough come in, go to the market, buy gear and eff off; the dealers aren't competing for a fixed market size), and arguably the drug dealers are more of a public amenity than anything else. But in Somers Town, things got really quite nasty.

ASBOs did help a hell of a lot, when targeted against known crack dealers with convictions. By making them intrinsically criminal people (if they were hanging around in Somers Town), it became possible to round them up and put them away without having to catch them red-handed (which feat of policing there simply wasn't the resource to pull off on a regular basis). I personally don't think that the drug problem in Somers Town could have been brought down to survivable proportions without ASBOs.

I also approve of the use of ASBOs against a lot of the alcoholics and addicts who hang around Camden Town, neither dealing nor being particularly violent, but being scary and making the place nasty. They were a significant disamenity (and becoming a problem for our tourist trade, which is a big part of the local economy), and it was visible that Camden was not a healthy place for them to spend their leisure time, if only on the basis that, as AA will always tell you, a man who hangs around in a barber shop all day will often find that he gets a haircut.

Here we are moving into dangerous civil liberties territory; there is a significant homeless community in Camden who are merely slightly mentally ill, or functioning alcoholics, They look out for each other and form a sustainable community, drawing its funds from the begging industry. They also provide the occasional useful service, like finding the bodies in a skip which led to the capture of the "Camden Ripper". So far, LBC has respected this and not tried to deal with them through ASBOs, but I have my eye out, since we too, appear to be blessed with young men in a hurry who see the "ASBO Ambassador" role as a route to the top of their profession.

So in other words, Camden has used ASBOs reasonably intelligently, in the context of a local authority which spends *one hell of a lot* on social services, and which has a very enlightened policy on a lot of people who would be considered de naturam antisocial elsewhere. (I often chuckle at kids in provincial towns shocking the world with two nose piercings, a lip stud and a small tatoo on the neck. We have weirder people than that working in my local Marks & Spencer). The use of ASBOs elsewhere in the country looks a lot more like an attempt to do social work on the cheap and I don't like it. There are also worrying signs of ASBO mission creep in Somers Town ("kids hanging around" being a bit of a red-flag phrase in my book) and the local community association is apparently nowhere near as keen on them as they used to be.

My pit-canary approach to politics would be to use the "pub door test". If your pubs have bouncers on the doors, you could probably do with chucking around a few ASBOs. Otherwise, with care. For the moment, apart from chain-pubs like Belushi's where I believe they are national policy, we don't.

dsquared

(btw, Aaaronovitch's quoted source is experiencing "memory telescoping". King's Cross was cleared up a long time before 2003.)

I suppose that my point is that being "for" or "against" ASBOs is like being for or against computers or guns - when, where, used how, with what degree of oversight? You have to look at the totality of the policy and ask whether, on balance, it is likely that they will be abused. The assessment "The man felt, perhaps for the first time in years, that the law was on his side and protecting him" is about the silliest way possible to summarise what happened in Camden.

Gaia Nichols

Um, hi, Im sposed to be putting an argue ment together against ASBO's for my gcse's, Id be greatful if you could send me some dirt on them, thanks.

Gaia Nichols

Um, heres my e.mail corpsecandle_arf@yahoo.co.uk

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