Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Caught At Speed 2: Swindon & Safety Cameras

Last year I did a posting in response to the rising hostility to speed cameras in the UK which has even led people to vandalise them, let alone constant whining in public and in the media about how they are a 'stealth tax' on motorists. Of course, in fact they are only a very visible fine on criminals who break the law by speeding. Yet, the British feel they have a right to drive at dangerous speeds unchallenged by anyone else. They blame the people they hit for the accident not their own poor driving. One of the highest rated irritations on the road is 'people not getting out of the way of faster cars'. If you are driving at the speed limit then there is no need to get out of the way. I have been driving through the road works on the M27 and there is a limit of 50 mph right through them and they are covered entirely with speed cameras, but this does not stop people trying to force me to go faster, constantly flashing their lights and hooting.

Anyway, this brings me to Swindon council. I do not drive as much in Wiltshire as I used to, but it is a rural, quite prosperous county in western England and Swindon is one of its main towns. In the town, the council has 16 speed cameras, 3 cameras to catch people jumping red lights (it is important to remember that not all safety cameras are speed cameras and some do other road safety jobs, I saw a man jumping a red light caught by one the other day and was very pleased) and 11 mobile units. They pay £400,000 for these to Wiltshire & Swindon Safety Camera Partnership for these. Now they want to scrap them all arguing that it is 'a blatant tax on the motorist' and again I emphasise, in fact they do not affect any motorist who stays within the law, who drives at the correct speed in towns and does not jump red lights. In fact what is going on here is that Swindon Council is actually annoyed that it does not get the money raised by the fines, this goes to central government. If it went to them I am sure they would be putting up cameras all over the town. Even if Swindon Council pulls out of the scheme the cameras would not go (despite what many in the media think) as £1.2 million comes from Wiltshire County Council. In its effort to get more money Swindon Council has foolishly lashed itself to the bandwagon of the virulent libertarians who seemed to be becoming dominant in the UK and insist they have the right to behave how they like unchecked by any authority. Of course people elsewhere will use the 'stealth tax' argument to campaign for the removal of other cameras when in fact it is simply criminals wanting the policing of their activities put to an end. Would anyone pay any attention if shoplifters insisted that CCTV cameras in shops should be removed because it was a tax on them as they have to buy goods instead of steal them? The relationship to speed cameras is no different.

A lot of this is about social class. Alongside the reports about Swindon council's actions is an announcement about more plans on behalf of the government to tackle youth crime. One proposed action is to evict families from council houses whose children behave in a criminal manner. Few people these days live in council houses as so many have been sold off, but clearly this is aimed at the poorest segment of society, it is not aimed at the 4x4 drivers whose children are equally as criminal, often spending far more on drugs because they have the cash. I think we must insist that expensive cars are repossessed in situations when it is the wealthy children who break the law. Who thinks making families homeless for the sake of their children's behaviour is a sensible policy anyway? It will just make the parents have to turn to crime too. Given the current love of the Thatcherite policies, no-one seems willing to face up to the truth of what those policies brought. The denial of society by Thatcher, very explicitly, and her emphasis on individuals and the popularity of 'greed is good' ethics, the sense that you are no-one unless you own things, especially a house, have all led to a society in which children behave the way adults to and bully others to get what they desire. In addition, no different to the adults, they feel they have to keep consuming all the latest items or be no-one. No credit is given in UK society for achievement in any other field except consumption and this is fuelled by the obsession with celebrity.

Some parents are bad at their jobs, but the bulk try their best. It is just that in our society they have very little control. The only way they can punish children is by denying them access to the consumer goods they want, and so what do the children do, they simply go out and steal or deal to get what they want. People blame the permissive 1960s for where we are now, but a lot of what is seen bad about that era, was in fact about gaining respect for people especially those from ethnic minorities and women. What we are seeing now is the consequences of the fragmentation, 'me first' culture of the 1980s. If the rich libertarians want to be free to commit crime, they have to realise everyone else will want to and in fact there is no difference between dealing drugs, shoplifting, speeding or running down a pedestrian, they are all crimes and are all about disrespect for other people and for society. The break down in law cannot be selective and the rich cannot be exempt and blame the poor for all society's ills.

I can see why Swindon Council has behaved as it has done, but the councillors have foolishly opened a can of worms which I believe will simply exacerbate lawlessness among all sectors of society in the coming months and years.

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