Crime and punishment in Middle England

October 22, 1999

The grip of the hang 'em, flog 'em brigade on the twitching net curtains of Middle England is loosening.

Although it may never have been so tight in the first place, according to research by a team of criminologists from Keele University.

A detailed survey of attitudes towards crime in the relatively affluent town of Macclesfield has found that the hard-liners who want to see tougher punitive laws, closed-circuit television cameras on every street corner and more robust policing only make up a minority of householders. A greater number hold a more ambivalent attitude to tackling the problem.

The analysis by Ian Loader, Evi Girling and Richard Sparks, funded by the Economic and the Social Research Council, is to be published in a forthcoming book, Crime and Social Change in Middle England.

"Of course, there's a strand of hard-line law and order opinion in Middle England but the body of middle- class opinion is more diverse and judicious in what it thinks about crime depending on the circumstances," said Dr Loader.

A good example of this emerges from research into what people thought of using CCTV cameras to monitor the streets.With high-profile successes such as the capturing of the London neo-Nazi bomber, there has been growing pressure to install cameras to clear crime from the streets.

One Macclesfield resident who was quizzed by the criminologists expressed the traditional view of the Middle Englander: "I've no time for these people that say it's Big Brother tactics. If you're doing nothing wrong you've nothing to worry about. Stick them on every street corner, every shop doorway for me." Others were less enthusiastic.

While one group was ethically or practically opposed, a more significant number felt that cameras were necessary but felt unhappy about their proliferation and possible abuse.

Another resident told the experts: "There's no need for them all over Macclesfield, just outside a couple of pubs. I wouldn't like them down the street or anything like that, looking into my window. It's not on."

Dr Loader said the situation was crucial to the question. A person who might agree with the general siting of CCTV cameras to combat crime - and national surveys suggest between 60 and 90 per cent of people do - might be reluctant to see them in their own neighbourhood.

"It shows the complexity of opinion that gets glossed over in the ways politicians invoke the fears of Middle England to support tough approaches to crime," Dr Loader said.

"In fact, people hold contradictory opinions and perhaps the politicians should recognise problems of order and fear of crime don't just require a tough criminal justice system but the building of sustainable communities, where people of different classes and generations can negotiate solutions to their own problems."

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