Anti-social behaviour - the national excuse

Website - 4 September 2005

You’ve got to give credit where it’s due. The Government has succeeded in bashing the yob culture that soaks Britain’s streets in Strongbow, but they have inadvertently created a counter-culture similar to that of a Communist state. The new powers given to residents perpetuate great mistrust, bitterness and incrimination between neighbours living on council estates. Except, innocent people aren’t kidnapped by secret police, they are visited by community support workers of the Housing Association.

Of course, the powers can work to an advantage – in extreme cases where people are fed hundreds of decibels every night through paper walls, or where racial harassment affects your personal security. But in the wrong hands, they can make a resident’s life a great misery.
According to the ‘Anti-Social Behaviour – Together We Can Beat It!’ pamphlet that passed through every council house letterbox earlier this year, anti-social behaviour can be defined as “any behaviour that causes nuisance or annoyance to neighbours”. Some examples of this rather vague criteria are identified as loud music, shouting and arguing, harassment, verbal abuse, vandalism etc etc. However, some examples defy logic, and liberty.

Fear not, council residents! The Housing Association will now ensure your protection from “dog barking” and “untidy gardens”. The pamphlet describes what actions the Association can take, including legal action. But it stresses however that, “eviction is always a last resort”. Always a relief for people whose neighbours have the contact number on speed dial.

The war on anti-social behaviour was something that was originally targetted on the drunk and the violent. The concern has since exploded into quiet streets in small towns, where children build dens and draw in chalk. Ordinary people are feeling the shrapnel from this current moral panic.

During the ‘Red Terror’ in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, people incriminated their neighbours as suspected terrorists to the KGB. Innocent men were kidnapped and families were slaughtered – history recognises that personal vendettas and envious families were motives for blame. The KGB bosses actively encouraged incrimination – quotas were even drawn up to appease the paranoid dictator, Joseph Stalin.

The witch hunts are also an apt example of a fear that governments have exploited to divide their citizens, conquering their power as a revolutionary mass. Forget terrorism – anti-social behaviour is dividing Britons indiscriminately, from black to white, from rags to riches, from man to woman, from chav to rocker.

One of the few purposes the American population serves to the British public is its ability to entertain us with shows like 'Judge Judy' and stories about parents sueing their children. Lose the smile. There is a genuine growing concern that the compensation culture in Britain is proportionally on par with our Atlantic buddies. Furthermore, on the front of the anti-social behaviour pamphlet I have used for this story, it makes clear that it is a "Guide to Customers". Not residents. Is this a road we want to head down?