Sunday, March 27, 2005
ASBOs - the people's control orders
The Liberal Democrats were right to oppose ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) when they were first introduced by Jack Straw in 1998.
Since then, the party has panicked. Some Lib Dem-run local authorities, such as Liverpool, have seized on ASBOs with abandon. Then last year, the party's shadow home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten decided to change party policy unilaterally, with the face-saving formula of a 'Super-ASBO'.
Nick Cohen, writing in today's Observer, explains that the use of ASBOs is now out of control. They have proved a handy device for the police, as a bureaucratic short-cut to avoid due process and to avoid having to deal with minor offences.
But they are also being exploited by the petty-minded and vindictive sort of people who used to write poison-pen letters, as a means of penalising anyone of whom they disapprove. Unlike the government's new control orders, which only the Home Secretary may use, ASBOs are a game anyone can play.
The Liberal Democrats really must learn to hold their nerve with emotionally-charged issues. Genuine anti-social behaviour (as opposed to the trivial incidents where ASBOs are abused) blights many people's lives. It is illegal behaviour and, as such, should be prosecuted through the courts, just like more serious offences. At the same time, policing priorities need to change so that minor crime is nipped in the bud rather than ignored.
ASBOs are simply an authoritarian quick fix, which do nothing to tackle the underlying problems. Do the Liberal Democrats really believe that this sort of political sticking plaster is a lasting solution to a real problem? If so, they are being stupid. If not, they are guilty of rank populism.
A new campaign, ASBO Concern, will be launched in April. It is a shame that the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to support it.
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