Posts Tagged 'Margaret Thatcher'

Blair: “I’m not to blame for Chilcot delays”



DMU's Business and Law presentations 2014

Tim Hillier

Authors Gavin Dingwall and Tim Hillier considers the very modern phenomena of apportioning blame in light of the recent news that the Chilcot Inquiry will not be publishing just yet and drawing on examples from their recently published in their book Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats: Allocating blame in the criminal justice process.

The recent non-news story that the findings of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot would not be reported any time soon has produced considerable media murmuring.

There is a certain satisfaction to be had in realising that the establishment of the Iraq Inquiry hadn’t all been just a dream. There is considerable bewilderment that the Inquiry will still be continuing six years after it was established. There is also the interesting side issue of how the Inquiry will compare with the Iraq War cost-wise.

Running through it all however there is a leitmotif: Blame.


Gordon Brown Photo credit: World Economic Forum

When Gordon Brown announced the establishment of the Inquiry on 15 June 2009 he may have talked about identifying lessons to be learned but the Inquiry was always going to be about apportioning blame. Gordon Brown’s statement on 15 June 2009 gave no indication that he thought the whole Iraq experience had been a success. In the words of 1066 and All That it had been “a bad thing” and therefore it must have been somebody’s fault. The delayed publication of the findings of the Inquiry now raises another layer of blame: who is responsible for the delay.

This focus on blame is not surprising in the modern epoch. The Iraq Inquiry itself is a particularly modern response to events. We still await the establishment of a government inquiry into the Suez invasion of 1956 or into events surrounding the deposing of the elected Iranian prime minister in 1951.

The Franks Committee which inquired into events leading to the Falklands Conflict in 1982 were very keen to establish that they were not seeking to apportion blame. Although the Franks Report had its share of critics we did not see the sometimes frenzied enthusiasm to blame that we see now.

There is a contrast to be made between the reaction to the inner city riots of the early 1980s with the reaction to the urban disturbances in 2011. Whereas with the former there was an acknowledgment that at least some responsibility for the burned out cars rested with the wider society: with all of us; in 2011 the language was much more ‘them’ and ‘us’: we might discuss who precisely is to blame but we are clear it is ‘them’ who are to blame and not ‘us’.


Margaret Thatcher, 1983 Photo credit: White House Photographic Office

It is difficult to pinpoint accurately when the turn to blamestorming occurred. It perhaps coincides with Thatcher’s denial of such a thing as society. During an interview with the Prime Minister in September 1987, Douglas Key, after congratulating the Prime Minister on securing a third term in office, suggested that increased prosperity for some had seen an increase in crime, an increase in divorces, an increase in violence and an increase in greed.

He hinted that the Conservative government might have some responsibility for this. Thatcher’s response was robust. She indicated that too many people thought problems of crime, violence were the responsibility of society: “. . .they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!” (Interview for Woman’s Own accessed 22 January 2015).

Certainly through the 1980s and into the 1990s we saw a growth in a desire to allocate blame to certain named individuals and a greater desire for blame. When certain events occur, for example, the death of Baby P or the killing of cartoonists in Paris, it is not sufficient merely to blame those directly responsible. The quantity of blame released is greater than that and it needs to be rapidly assigned or there is the danger that we may all be affected by it. We might all have a responsibility. That doesn’t accord with the spirit of the age. Far better we blamestorm and encourage the blamemongers to identify the scapegoats so the rest of us can sleep easy.

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Should our principles always guide our actions? by Cécile Hatier

Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats [FC]Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats: Allocating blame in the criminal justice process published on 29 January and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Margaret Thatcher and her legacy on criminology

Emma Wincup

Emma Wincup

by Emma Wincup, author of Understanding crime and social policy, publishing this month.

I have been reflecting since the death of Thatcher last month why there has been so little discussion of crime issues given the enormous amount of media coverage devoted to analysis of the impact of the policies she pursued. The run-up to her entry into Downing Street is widely cited by criminologists as one of the first General Elections in which law and order issues featured prominently alongside the usual suspects of health, education and the economy. Looking back, 1979 has become a watershed year; one in which the main political parties started to develop their distinctive crime agenda, which has too frequently ended up in a game of leapfrog with parties competing for who can be the toughest on crime.

We can easily look back and identify policies which might have contributed to rising crime rates throughout the 1980s, alongside increasing inequality: unemployment, and it’s devastating effects on communities; restrictions on eligibility for welfare, especially among young people; and reduced access to social housing. There is ample evidence to suggest that reduced welfare spending and unemployment are linked to crime, even though this has always been fiercely contested by the Conservative Party. There are always multiple explanations for rising crime rates, and increased expenditure on policing might be one of them, alongside actual increases in crime. Whilst reduced public expenditure was actively pursued across many areas of public policy throughout the 1980s, state investment in the police increased in the Thatcher years, and was coupled with the granting of greater police powers, most infamously and controversially demonstrated during the Miners’ Strike.

The real impact of her crime control policies were witnessed after she had left office. Widespread privatisation is the most obvious: criminal justice functions were put out to tender after the use of private sector companies had been tested elsewhere, most notably in health. If we take, for example, the current proposals to contract out probation supervision for all but the most risky offenders, or the widespread introduction of payment-by-results schemes through criminal justice, we can attribute much of this to the legacy of Thatcher. Radical changes in the financing and delivery of public services are, of course, not peculiar to the crime control functions of the state.

I still haven’t come up with an explanation for the neglect of crime issues in the media. It might be because much of the media coverage has been anti-Thatcher, and, whilst many of Margaret Thatcher’s policies are deeply troubling for those with academic interests in crime or who work within criminal justice, there were occasional glimpses of an alternative vision of criminal justice which many academics and professionals would support. Part of her legacy was to pave the way for the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, reserving custody for only the most serious offenders. The agenda which drove this was probably a desire to reduce state expenditure rather than a commitment to reduce the use of imprisonment in itself, but, had it been allowed time to bed down, we might not see almost 84,000 people locked up in custody in 2013.

Understanding crime and social policy is available with 20% discount from

Why the Right to Buy policy was so successful

How do you judge whether a policy has worked or not? Obviously, this is an important question, but the answer is by no mean clear cut. The reason I say this is because in my new book, Housing Policy Transformed: the Right to Buy and the Desire to Own, I argue that the most successful piece of public policy since the Second World War is the Right to Buy (RTB), which allowed social tenants to buy their dwelling at a considerable discount. Yet the RTB must be one of the most hated policies ever enacted. It is accused of causing a massive increase in homelessness, the residualisation of social housing and helped to create the apparently fatal fetishisation of owner occupation that led to the crash in the housing market in 2007.

So how can we claim that the RTB was so successful? The complaints about the RTB are all concerned with the effects of the policy on other issues rather than the policy itself. But if you look at the explicit aims of policy as set out in 1978 it is clear that the RTB achieved exactly what it was set up do. The Conservatives had two purposes: first, to extend owner occupation more widely amongst working class households, and second, to diminish the influence of local authorities over rented housing.

So when we consider that 2.5 million households bought their dwelling and local authorities now own less than 2 million dwellings instead of the 6 million in 1979 we must conclude that the RTB worked spectacularly well. The policy achieved precisely what the government intended it to.

So why is this not recognised in the literature? The reason is that virtually all the discussion on the RTB is conducted on the basis of the integrity of social housing. Quite simply, most academics and commentators see that social housing is a more legitimate tenure than owner occupation. Social housing is taken as the normal tenure around which the others ought to be judged. Therefore, what happens to social housing is all that matters.

Yet clearly this view is absurd when we consider the manner in which governments have to operate within the real world, where a majority of households are owner occupiers and a significant part of the minority aspire to it. Political parties, if they wish to get elected, have to respond to the aspirations of their populations, and this means that owner occupier will always be seen as more important than social housing.

Peter King
Centre for Comparative Housing Policy, Department of Public Policy, De Montfort University
Housing policy transformed: The right to buy and the desire to own is now available with 25% discount.
Peter King was interviewed for the article ’30 years on, the right to buy revolution that still divides Britain’s housing estates’ in The Observer, click here to read more.

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