It’s been almost a month since Boris Johnson became Mayor of London, so what has he done? The answer is: very little, but there are two significant measures he has introduced, both designed to tackle perceived problems with law and order (always a favourite with the paranoid right wing).
The first of these starts on Sunday and will see a blanket ban on the consumption of alcohol, or the possession of open containers of alcohol, on public transport. Boris has claimed that this will make people’s journeys on the London Underground more pleasant as they won’t have to deal with aggressive drinkers. I sincerely hope that I am not the only one that sees the massive problem with this statement, but for all those that can’t quite make it out (like, say, Boris), I’ll point it out. This policy would work if the cause of public drunkenness (which, I’ll concede, is not always edifying) were caused exclusively by people drinking on public transport. However, as anyone with a functioning brain cell will tell you, most people do not get drunk on the tube, but rather do it in the many pubs and clubs around London. Only then do they get on public transport and cause a nuisance, so how does Boris plan to deal with all of those people, who, I imagine, make up a more significant proportion of public transport users than people who drink on the tube, and are probably just as threatening.
So why is this a problem? Well, it isn’t per se, but coming from a party that claims to be against the authoritarian bureaucracy of the current Labour government, and a mayor that has frequently complained of the ‘schoolmarminess of Blair’s Britain,’ it seems just a little hypocritical to be introducing rules and regulations that will do little to improve public welfare. Not only that, but I’d prefer my Mayor (even if I didn’t vote for him) to actually implement productive policies, rather than mess about with symbolic but ultimately pointless and ineffectual gestures.
The second tactic is more frightening, more pointless and more counter-productive. They are, of course, knife arches. This is one of those policies that I hate mainly because it sounds so reasonable so people not given to close questioning of government policy, or are of the vaguely authoritarian bent anyway, but is, in fact, ridiculous. For those among you in those two categories, I’ll explain:
Firstly, on a purely organisational basis, this policy is simply impractical. Imagine the thousands, if not millions, of commuters who use London’s stations every day. Now, imagine the delay and chaos caused by making them all go through knife arches, especially as they are all guaranteed to be carrying something metal (keys, wallet, mobile phones etc. etc.). Of course, they could always use racial or some other form of profiling, it’s not as if that’s ever caused a riot…..
Then there’s the principle argument. When any one of us can be subjected to a search procedure on the whim of a police officer, without any evidence that we might be somehow guilty of a crime, we become mere objects of suspicion, with knife arches adding to our status as the most watched people in the world (and therefore, presumably, the most suspected). Oh, and for all the individuals out there who say that they don’t mind, they’ve got nothing to hide, I’ll go ahead and assume that you won’t mind having security cameras installed in all the rooms of your house, you know, just to make sure you’re not selling crack out of your kitchen. Hey, you’ve got nothing to hide.
To be honest, the worst thing about this is not the faintly authoritarian tone of the policies of a man who complained about just such policies when he was in opposition, it’s not even the fact that they’re pointless and intrusive policies. No, the worst part of it is that they are being implemented when the facts suggest that they aren’t actually necessary. While Kit Malthouse, Boris’ Deputy Mayor in charge of Policing, claims that there has been an increase in ‘death and injury caused by young people carrying and using knives,’ the Metropolitan Police’s most recent survey suggests that knife crime has actually dropped 15.7% over the past two years and that you’re twice as likely to be attacked on public transport in Perth, Australia (where many Britons go to flee the crime of their homeland) than you are on public transport in London. The first point this raises is the question: why is the Deputy Mayor not in possession of all the facts, or is he deliberately misleading the public (and if so, why?)? The second point is that, if Team Boris really wants to make Londoners feel safer, why doesn’t he tell us about these figures rather than instituting policies and making statements guaranteed to make us think the worst about our city? Surely he’s clever enough to know that it would be a better way to make us feel safer, or perhaps that Oxford education’s not all it’s cracked up to be.