George Walford: What Will Do It?

An article in the Observer (15 September) opens with a ringing declaration that under the series of Conservative governments which began in 1979 crime figures have more than doubled, from an annual 2.2 million offences to a “staggering” 5 million projected for 1991. (Why we should be staggered by 5 million and not by 2.2 million is not explained, but that’s journalism for you). The writer of course goes on to introduce his qualifiers, but it remains clear that official statistics show a substantial rise in reported crimes since 1979 and one which correlates, broadly at least, with the rise in unemployment over that period. A hiccup in the rising curve in 1988, during “Nigel Lawson’s yuppie-led boom,” lends confirmation.

The significance of social statistics is even more not absolute than most things, but one reasonable interpretation does seem to be that when unemployment increases more people turn to crime. The increase has taken place over a period of twelve years during which the electorate, having immediate experience of the results of conservative government, have twice confirmed the party in power, and present indications are that they may well do so a third time; even if not, no alternative other than the Labour Party (or conceivably the Liberal Democrats) appears. Growing unemployment in Britain does seem to have produced consequences, and quite significant ones, but they have not included any noticeable movement towards socialism, communism or anarchism. This throws us back on a query raised before: Is there any change of conditions which can reasonably be expected to do so? The significance of social statistics is even more not absolute than most things.

from Ideological Commentary 54, Winter 1991.