Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Gordon Brown's plans to reduce the budget deficit

Nick Robinson points out that Gordon Brown’s plans to implement laws to ensure that the budget deficit is halved will be seen as gestures which are worth little more than the paper they’re written on. This is, in my opinion, very true: what would the consequences be if the government failed? I guess the thinking is that there would be some kind of deterrence theory in action. So there would have to be some form of punishment and there would need to be some incentives too. Does anyone know what the punishment would be? The possibility of re-election would be an obvious incentive which begs the question, don’t MPs consider that to be sufficient to do good by their electorate?

What is more interesting to me is the use of the law to even do such a thing: it gives a whole new dimension to ‘governing through crime’ because the government is now planning on governing itself through crime. This could, I suppose, be expected from a government which has implemented more laws than any before it. The proposal also raises issues around the government’s belief in the power of crime to control behaviour as well as signifying and solidifying its belief in the potential of pre-emptive Orders which are supposed to control behaviour before it has even occurred, as seen in the very wide and very vague definition of anti-social behaviour. Finally, I wonder what would happen in terms of the victim’s charter if the government broke this new law and didn’t halve the budget deficit in the required period? If the victims are supposed to be at the heart of the criminal justice system and the government makes the whole electorate a victim, what happens then?

As this is the first bit of 'comment writing' on here, I think I’ll leave it there. Any comments anyone?


Alexandra said...

This does raise so many interesting questions for me as well. My initial thought is that this might be more of a performative act more than anything else--an effort to project a sense of government being 'tough' on itself, in an effort to boost its legitimacy at a time when its legitimacy--particularly in the realm of finance--is so low. So rather than being a serious attempt at self-policing, it could perhaps be an attempt at building confidence that government is indeed governing?

Jake Phillips said...

I think you may be right that it's an attempt to legitimise government as a whole rather than as an act of self governing but I am inclined to think that the government, in doing it, is misjudging the public mood. Firstly, people are fairly despondent about politicians being held accountable by anything, never mind possible criminal sanctions- this is especially pertinent in regards to the expenses scandal- so people will be sceptical about even the performative potential of this act. Secondly, I think the government is overestimating the faith that people hold in criminal sanctions themselves- both the left and right wing press complain about the numbers of laws this government has implemented and it doesn't seem to have done very much to improve the trust in the criminal justice system or assuage fears about rising crime- people still think that the judiciary is soft, prisons are holiday camps and that crime is on the rise despite efforts to refute these attitudes.

It seems like a performative act with out the performativity!

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