Martin Kettle can fuck off with this:
The bright Tory shadow Cabinet Office minister Greg Clark asked recently why politicians are so ready to discuss antisocial behaviour but so poor at discussing its pro-social equivalent.
Bright? Christ, we’re in a bad way. The first thing that needs discussing here is that “pro-social behaviour” is a term doing a hell of a lot of work; as with anything that could be de-syllabicised as “good stuff”, it’s profoundly meaningless.
But it’s worse; who decides what is “pro-social”? What limits would be set on this power? “Pro-social behaviour” according to the State could be anything from insulation to denouncing your neighbours to the NKVD, and has been both these things and everything in between. Those states who have the institution of a Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Punishing Vice, like Saudi Arabia and the former Afghan government, presumably believe themselves to be promoting “pro-social behaviour”.
And why does Kettle pass by this without offering any explanation of why politicians apparently find it difficult to discuss “pro-social behaviour” as opposed to “anti-social behaviour”? My guess is blatant partisanship. Politicians like “anti-social behaviour” for a number of reasons; the first and probably least repellent is that like “pro-social behaviour”, it’s a concept with no meaning at all. It’s the modern version of Orwell’s crack about “fascism” now meaning “something not desirable”. Nobody is in favour of anti-social behaviour, by definition.
But then, nobody considers their own behaviour anti-social; this is my second and rather uglier reason. Anti-social behaviour is what THOSE PEOPLE do; youths! the white working class! braying posh kids in Cornwall! black people! asylum seekers! It’s a cheap way of being indifferently hostile to all possible target-groups and therefore pandering to every prejudice available in the population, a rhetorical multiple independent re-entry vehicle.
And finally, politicians love anti-social behaviour because its solution is negative; you punish and coerce people you expect to commit it. I, the Man in Whitehall, can order the powers of the state to go and harass the potentially anti-social; I can be reasonably certain that the police will manage to be unpleasant to sufficient numbers of people who at least some groups of voters will consider to be anti-social. This is at least one managerialist control that will indeed produce results.
Further, anyone who can use the phrase “the bag menace” without apparent irony wants…severely criticising.