In the first of a two-part series, Gwen Jones looks at the history of capitalism - and wonders how it might evolve in the future.
The year is 1938. Alone in a Soviet prison cell, one man is awaiting the end to his eight-year-long ordeal.
Nikolai Kondratieff had spent almost a decade as a political prisoner in Suzdal, just northeast of Moscow. On September 17th 1938 - the day his original sentence was completed - Kondratieff was tried again, this time found guilty of anti-Soviet activity and sentenced to death. He was executed in his cell, by firing squad.
At the time, Kondratieff ranked among the great giants of 20th Century economic thought. His crimes were non-existent. All Kondratieff was really guilty of, in the eyes of his Stalin and his secret police, was to think the unimaginable about capitalism: that instead of crumbling under crisis, capitalism generally adapts, morphs and mutates.
In two major feats of analysis, Kondratieff was able to notice a distinct pattern within modern, industrial capitalism. Beyond short-term business cycles, Kondratieff found evidence of longer, fifty-year cycles of growth and decline consistent throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The major turning points of each cycle coincided with key structural changes within capitalism itself – thus, moments of crisis were indicative not of turmoil, but of order.
According to Kondratieff’s work, which later became popularised as ‘wave theory’, each long cycle begins with an upswing, fuelled by the roll out of new technologies and high levels of capital investment. As the rate of investment slows and saving by banks, corporations and individuals increases, the rate of growth slows up. The trajectory is still upward, though – recessions are short and shallow, and overall growth is strong.
Next, a downswing starts. The supply of accumulated capital is too great to be invested in productive industry, so more of it gets trapped within the finance system. Interest rates fall, as the abundance of cheap capital suppresses the price of borrowing. Wages and commodities prices follow, ending eventually in a depression.
The past two centuries exemplify Kondratieff’s waves almost perfectly – the first cycle began around 1790, prompted by the emergence of factories, and ended in around 1848. The second, this time fuelled by the roll out of railways, factory-produced machinery and stable global currencies, came to an end with financial crises in the UK and USA, which triggered the long depression of the 1870s-90s. Heavy industry and mass production drove the wave of the 1890s to 1945, eventually brought to its knees by the Second World War.
In the fourth (and final) wave, automated factory work, mass consumer goods and nuclear technology combined to produce the longest period of sustained economic growth in history. Decades of rising wages, the expansion of welfare, and access to integrated global markets led to a middle class explosion across Europe, the US and emerging economies. This was the era of ‘never had it so good’ - an expression which rings hollow now.
The punctuation point for this cycle is obvious. In 2008, global capitalism imploded. A poorly regulated and overinflated finance system eventually succumbed to a crisis of liquidity that almost brought the world to a standstill.
Rampant financialization had effectively, by this point, allowed many in the West to live for years off bad debt, their entire lifestyles funded by the availability of cheap credit. Wages weren’t growing, but we were still borrowing – hence the emergence of the subprime mortgage, non-existent until investment banking made it so. In the run up to the crash, banks across Europe had outstanding loans tens or hundreds of times larger than their respective national GDPs. In Iceland, the ratio of private bank assets to GDP was 1000:1.
The seeds of the next wave had been planted with the rise of information technology and the dot-com revolution of the 1990s. But while both have grown exponentially, the cycle has stalled. The West is still reeling from 2008, now over a decade ago, and recovery has been painfully slow.
Government balance sheets are overstretched, deficits still running high after billions were issued in bank bailouts. The public sector has been squeezed to crisis point by austerity, and wages in real terms have remained stagnant for years. Interest rates across most of the developed world are near zero, or below zero in some cases.
In short, the rapid take-off of a new capitalist growth cycle seems very far away indeed.
If Kondratieff was right, we should be expecting a new upswing any day now. In fact, it’s already long overdue. As mentioned, the seeds for this new paradigm have been planted; information and communications technologies have revolutionised the way in which we operate – at the individual and global levels.
So why no boom? Why no sunny uplands?
The problem lies with the way the world dealt with 2008, as well as with neoliberalism itself. The neoliberal model, which we have now come to recognise as ‘capitalism’, crumbled under the weight of its own contradictions. And yet, 10 years later, few have been resolved. The risk pooled within this instability has also been magnified - many of the techniques governments used to deal with the crash have already been expended. Interest rates have almost nowhere to go, and national deficits are already too large to take on another major bailout. There are no more bullets left in the gun.
In order to protect the world against crisis, and to secure a more prosperous future, the life support that has been used to sustain the existing system for years must finally be switched off.
Instead, we must pursue a revolutionary new approach to capitalism; one that prioritises wages over assets, equality over monopoly, and innovation over financialisation. The old ways of both the right, and the left, must be shrugged off - the 21st century will surely offer more than can ever be lived up to by business as usual.
David Britten updates you on the latest Renew events.
It was Harold Wilson who said that a week is a long time in politics, and I can confirm that. Last week was a long week.
As the Liberal Democrats officially adopted Revoking Article 50 as Brexit policy, Scotland’s highest court ruled the proroguing of Parliament unlawful and the Supreme Court poised itself to rule against Boris Johnson, I headed to the Green and Tonic debate on climate change in London. By the end of the week, I had ended up at the Usk Country Show to discuss the current state of politics with the farming community.
Green and Tonic was founded by Renew member Anthony Hobley to create debate around climate change and sustainability. The event was chaired by Anthony and the speakers were Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Kate Hampton, of CIFF (Children’s Investment Fund - the world's largest philanthropic institution that focuses specifically on improving children's lives), Adam Woodhall and Malini Mehra. The discussion topic was the urgency of the climate crisis - can the UN summit deliver sufficient ambition?
Gail Bradbrook started the debate by explaining XR’s key government demands, centred on telling the truth about the urgency of the climate crisis. It was a feisty speech and XR’s plans for October were discussed in depth. As we currently have no sitting Parliament (until tomorrow, that is), there was concern that Prime Minister Johnson and sidekick Dominic Cummings could call a national emergency if there was a repeat of XR’s bridges protest, with Johnson then able to make decisions which would ultimately take away from the focus of stopping Brexit.
Kate Hampton discussed the need to make developing countries jump the energy cycle to create a low-carbon world and avoid high-emission development, a legacy left by our own Industrial Revolution. A good example of the excellent work done by Kate’s organisation is in Africa, where it helped a developing country to have the majority of its electricity needs met by renewable energy.
As for my other political trip - the Usk County Show is held in the county of Monmouthshire, which voted 50.44% to remain in the EU. Monmouthshire is in Wales on the English border and has a strong farming community.
We worked with other political parties at the show, and took a stand under the Remain Alliance banner. Along with Plaid and the Welsh Green Party, we chatted to visitors, asking them to take part in our Renewometer survey (pictured below). The conversations and results were interesting: 99% of participants were unhappy with how politicians are handling Brexit and most were hugely distrustful of politicians.
The farming community is very robust, but it also acknowledges its important role in our society. Most farmers know that their industry would suffer the most after a no-deal Brexit.
So what do these events mean for Renew? For me, they show that there is a real space and need for our party, one prepared to work with other groups to reduce inequality in the UK and tackle our environmental problems.
The reduction of inequality and the rise of technological innovation can be the UK’s bright future, and Renew will work with anyone dedicated to achieving it.
Renew’s Heather Astbury gives some advice for media management in a guide that might especially appeal to our members and candidates nervous at the prospect of engaging with journalists.
“There’s no point in doing media interviews because the reporter will twist everything you say and make you look bad anyway.” This is a statement I have heard so often – and it is simply not true.
Having once been a journalist, I know the vast majority are hardworking, dedicated and professional. They take their reputation for accuracy and fair reporting seriously; in a competitive field where mistakes can be punished by legal action, reporters with vendettas won’t last long.
My journalism course contained a significant legal element, with contempt of court and defamation (libel) being subjects we were expected to have mastered. We were taught to keep our notebooks as evidence of the information we had gathered in our interviews and the need to interview people from all sides of an argument to ensure fairness was drummed into us. If we couldn’t prove a story was true, fair and accurate, we couldn’t publish it.
That contrasts sharply with social media where ‘citizen journalism’ has meant anyone can publish almost anything without fear of reprisal. There is certainly not the level of scrutiny and standards of reporting required of career journalists. So why does the media get such a hard time?
Ignoring suggestions of vested interests of media owners - even if true this wouldn’t affect how they reported on the majority of businesses – I believe the feeling arises because potential interviewees are nervous about making a mistake and looking foolish, so they use this argument as an excuse not to engage with the media at all. Also, people often have unrealistic expectations when it comes to getting media coverage.
Reporters have a job to do, just like the rest of us. For some, their role is to inform and educate the public about subjects that are of interest and importance to them. For others, it is to entertain. It isn’t the job of any journalist to promote your company, your product or you personally. Media outlets expect you to pay for that service and that is where the lines between editorial and advertising content are drawn. Whereas with advertising you simply pay for the amount of space or time your company wants and you provide the content, the editorial process is entirely different and one you have much less control over.
Firstly, you need to convince the reporter that you have a story to tell that will be of interest to the public. One of the main requirements is that your story is actually news, i.e. it is new. If you are trying to get coverage for something that happened three months ago or has already been all over social media, forget it; reporters won’t be interested.
Once you’ve convinced the reporter, they need to persuade their editor to run the story. At this point the reporter’s reputation is on the line with their editor. If they can’t verify the facts or aren’t able to get commentary from you or third parties on the record, the story won’t run.
On the newsdesk of a national daily paper, I had to write three to four stories on completely unrelated topics per day. I had to speak to a variety of different experts for each story to ensure the story was accurate and fair. It was a rush and it’s easy to see why mistakes are made. The people who were available and willing to talk, who called me back when they said they would and who fulfilled their promises were my best friends. The flipside was that I didn’t have time to wait around for people, so if my top interview subject wasn’t available, I had to get someone else.
The ease of getting content published on social media may have made us lazy. Why spend all the time and effort required to be covered in the media when you can post anything you like as often as you want on Twitter? People generally still trust the media more than social media commentators and having your news covered in a top title can enhance your reputation enormously.
If you follow the rules, dealing with the media can be a hugely rewarding and valuable experience. Don’t miss out.
Renew's James Bryan airs his frustrations with the current political climate.
We choose representatives to make decisions of national importance, that is the core principle on which our democracy is built. There is a certain level of trust that comes with this level of power, and it has often been the case that politicians have abused that trust.
Taking away the ability of our elected representatives to create policy for five weeks during one of the most politically tumultous times in living memory is at best cynical political manoeuvring and at worst the sort of archaic abuse of power that one would expect of a medieval monarch.
It is certainly not the kind of sensible decision making that one would expect from a logically minded parliamentarian attempting to secure the best possible future for this country.
There is a certain irony in someone who has found themselves in the highest possible position in this country through luck attempting to overrule those who derive their power from an actual mandate.
Whether one believes that the UK should leave the European Union or not, whether one falls on the liberal or conservative side of the ideological spectrum, this is a matter of the political future of the United Kingdom. We, the people, voted for our representatives, and having our Prime Minister take that away is the mark of either a misinformed idiot on a power trip, or a malicious bastard attempting to push through a personal agenda at the expense of this entire country’s future.
Reject the lies, reject the cynical political manoeuvring and don’t let party politics get in the way of securing the best possible future for everyone.
If Mr Johnson disagrees with his fellow MPs then he should argue a coherent position, not shut them out.
No single person has all the answers.
The Royal Prerogative has forced the Prime Minister to go back to the people. That’s a good thing, says Renew supporter John Nucciarone.
British parliamentary democracy maintains, in essence, a balance of power.
As the country changed over the centuries, the balance of power between the monarch, Lords, and Commons did too. In the 1900s, majority governments became the norm, with the executive not only becoming more powerful but also with a higher degree of concentration in the Prime Minister’s office and his special advisors. The checks and balances reserved to not only the Commons but also the Lords and Her Majesty increased in importance. But, as the Commons and Lords are driven by partisan politics, Her Majesty’s powers cannot be re-characterised as only ceremonial by the very people she is meant to provide a check and balance against. Her powers must remain relevant. In the 21st century, they belong to the people.
An unconstitutional prorogation?
The UK constitution is a political constitution, and its conventions have a political dimension to them. That would include Her Majesty’s powers including her right to grant prorogation. The power to deny or grant it rests with her and is neither political or a convention. It is her legal right. The convention that she follows the advice of her PM is only that - a convention. The political aspect comes in when she uses her judgement as to whether to follow the advice or not.
The only way one could argue Her Majesty granting prorogation (and perhaps the advice given by the PM) is unconstitutional is if it eliminates an option MPs would otherwise have had, meaning the Queen is no longer seen as being a check and balance on Parliament, but rather a threat to the Commons.
And then you have to answer the question: did Her Majesty, in granting the prorogation, eliminate the possibility of stopping a no-deal Brexit by legislative means or reducing the amount of days available for a new government to be formed?
A court would also likely take into account the possibility of a No-Confidence Vote being held before the Queen’s Speech has been eliminated. It should then note that the Opposition was unlikely to call for one during the period before prorogation and has been playing tennis with both the government and itself on this issue for over two years.
It is important to note that a court would need to rule that the advice given by the PM and Her Majesty’s decision to grant the prorogation was illegal, as to do otherwise would reduce Her Majesty’s role to that of a figurehead, throwing the rest of the UK constitution into a spin and putting us on the road becoming a Republic. This is not something within the court’s jurisdiction and powers.
More than a pretty crown
Under the guise of not politicising the Queen, a process has started where the Queen is seen as only as a figurehead with no subjective element in her decisionmaking process. This could not be more wrong or unconstitutional.
This reasoning or interpretation of the constitution would enable a PM to request a prorogation beyond 31st October, or linger on after losing a non-confidence vote and another government is ready to be formed. The Queen may rely on her PM to convey an accurate picture of the political landscape, but the final decision still rests with her. For this reason, her advisors at the Palace must be independent of the Prime Minster’s Office.
Her Majesty likely granted this prorogation as a result of thinking that, should the House of Commons wish to finally make itself heard, it can - either by bringing down the government or passing legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit.
Perhaps she is asking them to get on with it if that is what is necessary or desired. Either way, have no doubt that the Queen’s legal powers, including her power to dismiss a PM (after the Commons has acted) now have our Prime Minister considering an election to avoid a No-Confidence vote and the possibility of having to leave Downing Street so soon.
In this piece, Renew member Paul Gerken compares Boris Johnson's proroguing of Parliament to Jafar's control and exploitation of the genie's powers in Aladdin.
As much as our new overlords will try to convince you otherwise: this isn’t normal. As much as our unwritten constitution can’t define the proroguing of Parliament as illegal, it shouldn’t mean that we understand it as a correct resolution to our Brexit crisis. It isn’t.
What Alexander “Boris” Johnson is doing, as an unelected Prime Minister with no mandate, is wielding the monarch’s power in a way usually vested only in those who have been voted for by the majority of the population. Yet within a matter of days of being honoured with these privileges, he has taken those powers and stretched our political fabric to the point of breaking.
He has not acted like a guardian of our institutions and traditions, but a wanton destroyer. This ain’t right; this ain’t OK.
The power of the Prime Minister is eyed enviously by many western democratic leaders. The freedom to act comes from being able to execute many things in the name of the Queen, who still holds ultimate authority. But, like many commentators state, the idea that the Queen will suddenly begin to exercise these powers herself and go against the will of the Prime Minister is for the birds. The Monarch’s power is like the genie in Aladdin; in the hands of the good it can be a force for great success. In the hands of Jafar? Well, all shit breaks loose and the kingdom lies in rubble.
And see how scheming, duplicitous, machiavellian Jafar has got his hands on our genie.
Ladies and gents, if you think BoJo is only going to pull this stunt once, I think you’ll be in for a surprise. Once someone tastes power, they don’t give it up easily. Especially not someone who has committed more backstabbings to get power than those in the entirety of Game of Thrones.
This man, this caricature, has been rewarded at every turn for his deceit and treachery. It was he who turned on his leader and supported leave, just to take down David Cameron. It was he who quit the cabinet, just so he could manoeuvre against Theresa May. And yet his star has continued to rise. He has now retired parliament to push through his own agenda and it’s so far, so good. So why should he change? With every outrageous act, he becomes emboldened.
This is not a man who will later turn around and believe in a genuine parliamentary democracy when the choppy waters of Brexit are cleared. He will do this again and again, unless he is stopped now.
Those that support him should be losing sleep for shame. Rudd, Javid, Hancock and the rest are the squawking parrots to this egomaniac Jafar. The best they can and should do is fly away, whilst Parliament returns to enact its vengeance. And Parliament must unite without equivocation nor hesitation and bring down this man. Once gone, we need to write our constitution to ensure this never happens again.
The genie must be placed firmly back in the bottle.
Welcome to new member Dan Willis, who breaks down his journey to becoming part of Renew below.
My experiences with UK politics started only a few years ago. Before I was 21, the idea of politics – or even worse, getting involved with politics – was as far away in my mind as possible.
However, as a journalism student at The University of Salford, I began to be exposed to the ideas, philosophies and policies which governed the UK. What I have learned since that time is that, far from being a cold, long-distance relationship, politics and the individual have a strong connection, if you are willing to get involved
I have spent time previously with the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats, two parties I previously felt were the closest to my views ideologically. I went on anti-austerity marches and leafleted for remain during the EU referendum campaign, all while learning and understanding more about politics and its influence on my life.
In 2018, I stood in my first local election. I represented the Liberal Democrats in the ward of Clayton and Openshaw in Manchester, achieving 118 votes. I fell short of getting elected to the council but had found that, through hard work and connecting with local people, everyone has a chance of being a political representative and helping out their community.
Fast forward a year, I was standing again for the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 local elections, fighting for a seat in the Round Green ward of Luton. This time I only just came up short, losing the third seat on the council by less than 60 votes. While I knew that my interest in political representation was only growing stronger, I decided to leave the Liberal Democrats after the election to find a new political home. One more truly connected to my beliefs – enter Renew.
Finding a political party like Renew has not only given me a great opportunity to grow as an activist but has also provided a party I find most closely aligned to. One of, if not the key area of policy I am most interested in is localism – more specifically, truly devolved localism. I think the time has come for central government to finally understand that when it comes to local issues in wards and constituencies, the power must lie with the people who know their area best – i.e. local citizens and representatives.
Renew's Kitty O'Hara questions Brazilian President Bolsonaro's role in the Amazon wildfires.
The volume of wildfires in the Amazon rainforest have recently drastically increased, with over 72,000 outbreaks this year alone.
The Amazon is home to around three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. The damage will have an irreversible effect on the Earth’s climate. The Amazon’s abundance of freely growing vegetation absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen and carbon, facilitating increased plant growth. Scientists warn the forest is in danger of degrading into a savannah, diminishing its capacity to absorb carbon in the atmosphere.
President Bolsonaro has been accused of contributing towards the 88% increase in deforestation, after cutting Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency’s budget by $23 million. Further accusations have been directed towards his agenda to erase the presence of indigenous people from the rainforests. In turn, using the space and natural resources to boost Brazil’s economy. He has retaliated and counter-blamed NGOs for causing the blazes.
The first half of July 2019 alone had 68% more fires than July the previous year. Bolsonaro accused the INPE - the Brazilian institute for space research, including atmospheric sciences - of lying regarding the extremity of the crisis. He then fired their director, Ricardo Galvao, after the institute published figures revealing the soaring levels of deforestation. The government slammed the report as “sensationalist” lies. The far-right President dismissed concerns about the fires, informing one news agency that the smoke was normal for the “season of queimada” - when landowners illegally set fires for cattle ranching known as “fire days” to take advantage of the authorities weakened protection of the forest.
It is deeply troubling that Bolsonaro adopts opposing plans to the global drive to slow carbon emissions. The Amazon is home to expansive carbon stocks, widely understood to have an integral role in climate change mitigation. As a result, global environmental organisations often pay greater attention to Brazilian policies towards it.
Bolsonaro has a strong anti-indigenous people rhetoric, one notable quote being in 2017, when he stated: “minorities have to bend down to the majority… either adapt or simply vanish.” He has compared the indigenous people who inhabit the Javari Valley to animals in zoos, and vowed not to leave “one square centimetre” of land for such groups. A leader from Javari’s Matés tribe, Kevin Mavoruna, has accused the current government of attempting to exterminate indigenous people and take the land they inhabit, which is reflective of Bolsonaro’s aims for tribes across Brazil.
Recently, Bolsonaro mocked Macron, Merkel and head of the WWF Amazon Programme, Ricardo Mello, for challenging his policies. Other international critics include Norway, who followed Germany in suspending donations to the Amazon Fund, in response to the fires. Norway has been the fund’s biggest donor, giving around £985 million over the past decade.
However, is this enough? The UK continues to trade with Brazil, and directly profits from deforestation through imports of Brazilian soya beans. In 2017 alone, we were solely responsible for 220 million square metres of deforested land.
So what can we do? An international response, whether in the shape of a boycott of Brazilian trade, or pressuring international companies to cut trade links with Brazil, would reduce the power Bolsonaro holds over the lungs of the Earth. Whatever we do we need to act fast.
We must take responsibility for the role we play - regardless of how far removed we believe we are from such issues.
Renew's Brogan Meaney explains why a no-deal Brexit would be far from patriotic.
The leaked Operation Yellowhammer documents have increased speculation—if it were at all possible—around the fallout from a no-deal Brexit.
Much has been discussed about the source of the leak—a ‘whodunnit’ style witch hunt targeting this so-called unpatriotic attempt to disrupt Brexit. But should we instead be focusing on the document’s contents—what no-deal Brexit scenarios have the government been brewing?
Remainers’ rigid focus on the facts, the statistics and the bitter economic realities of a no-deal Brexit has been our undoing. The reality is daily life won’t really alter for the majority of people, at least not immediately: the average punter won’t observe the limitations caused by food scarcity on supermarket supply-chains, or notice increases in price, or witness the disruption at our ports. Perhaps they won’t even feel the effects of medicine shortages. And this emphasises the ‘Project Fear’ narrative. Without the stark contrast of a pre and post-Brexit Britain, all our facts and statistics, regardless of their ultimate truth, can be viewed as mere scaremongering.
Yet the long-term effects of a no-deal Brexit will be disastrous. The damage to British wealth and national pride will be felt, but gradually. Make no mistake—Brexit will cause a decline in the power of our economy until our superpower status is all but a fond memory.
In light of this, Remainers have failed to present an argument, or a narrative, as emotive and strong as Vote Leave’s. Our obsession with the facts has merely encouraged those with their fingers in their ears to dig them in deeper.
Patriotism and national pride are messages at the forefront of Vote Leave, and have made their way into the no-deal argument. They are concepts that have been stolen and redefined by the government and prominent Leavers to outline their argument and legitimise their rhetoric of ‘leave means leave’. Shouts of: Britain is strong and stable; Britain will survive a no-deal Brexit; The EU needs us more than we need the EU, resonate with many Leave voters. But Brexit, especially the looming specter of a no-deal Brexit, is wholly unpatriotic. We’re poised to throw ourselves off a cliff with no means of return because of a misguided belief in what a no-deal Brexit means for Britain, and for Britain’s place internationally. We’re at a point where it’s considered unpatriotic, and undemocratic, even, to question the authority of the government to leave the EU without a deal, and the wider decision to leave the EU.
But it’s not unpatriotic. What is unpatriotic is to blindly leave our largest trading bloc, irreversibly damaging our economy, because of a referendum result three years ago that was heavily influenced by a campaign based on lies, and from which the terms have completely altered. What is undemocratic is to wholly ignore calls for another referendum, whilst simultaneously suppressing those voices speaking out against Brexit.
Further, no-deal doesn’t mean no-deal ever. It means no-deal, for now. Eventually, we’d have to negotiate with the EU. We’ll crawl back with our tail between our legs, and be forced to pay the billions of pounds we owe in unpaid fees. What misguided conception of national pride has glorified this scenario? Where is the national pride in reducing the reach of our economy? A strong economy needs trade agreements across our globalised world. To limit our trading options does not make us stronger, in fact it does quite the opposite. It will force us into years of trade negotiations with the EU—the Canadian EU trade deal took seven years, whilst Switzerland has been in permanent negotiations with the EU since 1972—and further bureaucratic practises, exactly what Brexit is against.
No-deal is a contradiction. It will perpetuate all the problems it claims to stop. A no-deal will cripple us within a world of superpower economies. A country desperately seeking any deal post-Brexit is not strong, but weak. And it’s not only un-British to promote something so detrimental to our country and its place in the world, but irresponsible, too.
Renew member Victor Zanchi gives his take on the need for rehabilitative prison reform in the UK.
Beyond ensuring a fair trial in which victims receive any reparations due, the purpose of a criminal justice system is to keep society safe from those that would cause it harm. Putting someone in prison is a way of isolating them from the world, and, in theory, preventing them from committing further crimes. But, in our modern society, it is generally accepted that for all but the most heinous crimes, a prisoner will need to be released sooner or later back into society. It is here that our own criminal justice system fails the very people it’s designed to protect.
In the UK, reoffending rates are high. Violence is rampant in our prisons, recruiting officers is difficult and our prisons are overcrowded. But what will Boris Johnson’s “investment” achieve? More prison places and more guards, perhaps, but longer sentences will use up those new resources faster than they can be put in place.
The answer is a shift in how we treat our prisoners, and like many things, our friends on the continent - the Norwegians, to be exact - have an idea. The BBC featured an excellent article in July which sheds light on a criminal justice system that solves a lot of the issues we currently face.
In Norway, inmates are given training and education while undertaking community service programmes and work. The guards are involved in those same activities, treating the inmates as fellow human beings rather than cattle, and they are, in turn, respected. Sentences are limited but reviewed often, and an inmate’s release is planned from the day they arrive. Focus is on their mental health and a calm atmosphere. Most of all, the system is designed to turn them into productive members of society.
Officers are of mixed gender, but there is hardly any violence – and the prisons reflect what the world is like outside, preparing them for life beyond bars. The result is that reoffending rates in Norway are only 20% after two years, half of those in England.
A similar system in the UK would mean more money being spent per prisoner, perhaps, but those prisoners would be in jail for less time and be far less likely to come back. Not only would they contribute to society while in prison through various community work schemes, but they would return to being productive, tax-paying members of society at the end of their sentence.
Furthermore, we would have less violence in our prisons and fewer issues with drugs. We’d find it easier to recruit and keep officers, and I believe we’d see a positive impact on crime rates overall. That would more than make up for any extra investment needed.