Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ken says: Renationalise the railways!

This just in, on the Grauniad blog this afternoon: Ken Livingstone explains why the privatisation of the railways has been a catastrophe, and how the East Coast Main Line fiasco provides the opportunity to start renationalising the whole network, and why that would be a good thing.

Every word is spot on. No need to add anything. Just read the piece.

UPDATE: And see also this from the Campaign for Public Ownership.

Let Ronald Biggs die in jail

I have never held Jack Straw in very high regard, but I'm with him on this one.

The way that the popular culture tends to venerate hardcore professional criminals has always sickened me. If society had its moral compass right, such people would be more vilified even than paedophiles, rapists and passion killers. Many of the latter, it can always be argued, are sick. There is something wrong with them: they are psychopaths, or their brains don't work properly; they are mentally ill, whether temporarily or permanently.

No such defence is available to the professional criminal, who is perfectly sane, knows exactly what he is doing, and is motivated by sheer greed.

I remember that, at the time of the Great Train Robbery, at least part of the gutter press evinced a sort of grudging admiration for its perpetrators. It was as if stealing vast sums of money was somehow an activity in which anyone might like to engage, if only they thought they could "get away with it". This mood changed only slightly when it was pointed out that, in this particular operation, the train driver had been physically attacked and injured.

We have seen the same kind of nauseating attitude in the case of several other such ruthless scum. I have seen grovelling, laudatory interviews in the media with such people as "Mad Frankie" Fraser, as if "going straight" for a period of time, and writing a book about it, somehow wiped out the bad things they had done in the past. Even the monstrously evil Kray twins, in the east end of London at least, continued to be worshipped by some.

In the case of Ronald Biggs, we have long been invited to admire the fact that he managed to escape from jail and live a life of luxury in South America, as though it were all just a harmless game. Good old Ronnie, he succeeded in hoodwinking the authorities, what fun. Well, he hasn't yet served his time. And how much has he repaid of what he stole?

The reason why such people should be locked away is a different reason from why we lock up murderers, rapists and perverts. These latter need to be locked up to protect society from any further such activities on their part. In the case of the professional criminal, the main reason for locking them up, in my view, is to send a message that being a gangster and stealing other people's money is not a morally acceptable profession and that society will punish it severely.

My proposal is that professional gangsters should never be let out of jail until they have paid back everything they stole. They should certainly remain locked up until they have said where the loot is stashed and allowed the authorities to recoup it. It makes me sick to hear of criminals who are let out after a few years and who can then access the hidden money.

I feel, too, that films and TV have a lot to answer for. It may all just be fiction, but there is a fantastic amount of it every evening and the relentless message it sends out is that crime is a normal activity, that the battle between criminals and the police and justice system is a sort of morally neutral cat-and-mouse game. It is no wonder that so many people seem to have a laid-back attitude towards stealing. We need to get back to the realisation that stealing, and greed, are morally evil.