People who know me know that I really don’t like Tom Harris, the current MP for Glasgow South. Hell, my second blog post was basically about him being totally awful on the issue of tuition fees (a lie he continues to this day), and he relishes in being the tribal kind of Labour MP, especially on Twitter. So savvy he is on Twitter, that he became Labour’s internet adviser.
Until he posted a Downfall parody of Alex Salmond, effectively comparing the Scottish National Party leader to Adolf Hitler. Yep. After he lost the Scottish Labour leadership election, he might’ve been a bit angry. Who knows? But he did end up having to resign the post.
But that’s not all he’s said to provoke the ire of people recently: in May this year, he made a comment that a protester that had thrown an egg at Ed Miliband ran way “Like a girl. Throws like a girl too.” Which prompted blogger Ophelia Benson to joke that she was tempted to move to Glasgow to deliberately not vote for him in 2015. He dug deeper that same day, when he claimed “I was insulting the protester!”, missing the point that he used womanhood as an insult. That also has the effect of insulting all women, not just the protestor.
Anyway, to tonight. I’m pretty much following the interesting bits of Lib Dem Conference from Sarah Brown and Zoe O’Connell. At a civil liberties fringe event, I believe, Sarah made a comment that Labour legislation, pretty much like Tory legislation, has the adverse effect of punishing the working class disproportionately (a panelist gave the example of robbing a handbag gets you six months while robbing a pension fund gets you a suspended sentence). It was about that time that Caron Lindsay (of Caron’s Musings) commented about the sad state of affairs of alcoholics getting ASBOs, to which Harris entered the debate.
ASBOs are pretty much something tailored towards “antisocial behaviour”, which is typically translated as behaviour that the middle class Mail-reading population don’t like. Sarah commented as much last night, where she said the best way to escape alcohol carrying laws that are common in city centres is to “look middle class”. After all, who ever got arrested for carrying a bottle of Bordeaux?
Things got a bit ugly after Harris started talking about the virtues of “personal responsibility”, which is always a suspect phrase because it implies that poor people aren’t poor because of the circumstances of their upbringing, disability, disprivilege — nah, they’re just too feckless. To which Tom started arguing about the “victims” of alcohol addiction, boasting proudly about how he got an alcoholic evicted from his house:
Now, this is the important thing: alcohol dependence is a mental disorder listed in the DSM. Telling someone they need to “take personal responsibility” for their dependence is like saying that a depression patient needs to “get over it”. And just getting a person evicted won’t solve anything! All it will do is shift the problem somewhere else. In every town centre and city centre in the country, there are homeless people drinking themselves asleep at night on cheap cider in doorways and alleyways. It’s a legitimate humanitarian crisis. Surely, as an MP for Glasgow, which has one of the worst rates of alcohol addiction in the country, he should realise that? It would be seen as simple naivety, were it not for the fact he chose the eviction route over medical intervention.
It’s one of the problems that has occurred because governments are too responsive to popular opinion: we discard what works for a sense of “natural justice”, in a way. In the sixties, we had NHS-funded halfway houses for heroin addicts. Those were later closed down to appear tough on drug addiction. The result is a spike in drug addiction that people are still being arrested for. We’re getting better recently, and we’re starting to treat people with addictions as people. We need to do a similar thing for alcohol addiction: try to find a way to cure it through humane and ethical treatments. Rehabilitation is certainly more humane than eviction.
But, sadly, people like Harris don’t seem to care about it. Entire politics, especially tribal politics, and especially some nasty areas of the Labour Party, want to appear, to borrow the old campaign slogan, tough on crime, but they’re not being tough on the causes of crime. And tough on what the public see as morally wrong. It’s about time people got off their arses and started giving an actual damn about disadvantaged people and people in poverty, because otherwise we’re going to see all these problems continue to rise until we walk blindly into authoritarianism because we’re too stupid to think.
Edit: A few minutes after I posted this I received confirmation that Harris wasn’t naive, he was downright malicious in forcing a mentally ill person onto the streets when he was aware other options existed.