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Oxford University Press - Online Resource Centres

Hale et al: Criminology 3e

Chapter 19: Chapter synopses

This chapter examines the history of law and order policies and how they have changed since the end of the Second World War. Its focus is based on the concept of 'punitive populism' where politicians follow what they believe to be the electorate's wishes as expressed and reinforced by the media. This concept has shaped most law and order policies since the Second World War. Post 1945 the Welfare State was introduced to the United Kingdom, which guaranteed a minimum standard of income, health and education and was initially supported across the political spectrum as an approach to tackling crime. However by the 1970s the Welfare State was regarded by some as both a cause of the UK's economic problems and thus a reason for the growth in crime. This led the way for the emergence of Thatcherism with its tough stance on law and order and its anti-welfarism approach. Today the state's primary aim is still to protect its citizens, particularly so today with the increased threat of terrorism. However, punitive populism still has its part to play and Labour's rhetoric of being "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" resonates with this heightened public fear of and anger about rising crime, in several respects:

  • Crime tackled more toughly rather than merely focussing upon the criminal
  • Being tough on the causes of crime captures traditional Labour concerns with inequality and social problems
  • This implicitly condemns the Conservatives for failing to make these connections since 1979 (Downes and Morgan 2002)

This chapter traces the breakdown in that consensus and the ways in which crime became an increasingly contested arena of political competition. All the main political parties now make claims and counter-claims about trends in crime (see Chapter 3). Each promises to reduce crime and make the public safer in ways which once reflected ideological differences between them. These distinctions have been increasingly blurred since the 1990s such that the current approach of both Labour and the Conservatives has been described as one of ?populist punitiveness? (Bottoms, 1995). Politicians increasingly depict the CJS itself as key to controlling crime; and many commentators, observing similar trends in other Western countries, have suggested nation-states, conscious of their weakening influence over social and economic developments, have resorted to ?governing through crime? (Simon, 2007).