Friday, 13 August 2010

The myth of zero tolerance

It appears that the 'travellers' who were illegally encamped in Dundee have upped sticks, leaving behind "huge mounds of rubbish, dog faeces and rubble", although where they might reappear next is anyone's guess.

Both the Courier and the Evening Telegraph have carried uncharacteristically strong-worded leader columns on the subject this week; if not uncharacteristic in relation to the actions of the travellers then perhaps so regarding the reaction of the authorities to the issue. Dundee's morning paper suggests the powers that be may just be hoping that the problem will dissipate along with the summer weather, but slams their "rather spineless attitude". Meanwhile, the city's evening paper says: "They cower in the corner, paralysed by political correctness, and do nothing. Absolutely nothing." Well said those newspapers!

On a slightly different tack, both papers claim that the whole thing is characterised by double standards. The Courier asks, "Would any other group in society be treated so leniently?" The Evening Telegraph says: "This is nothing short of rank hypocrisy given the fact that anyone else who dumped a pile of mess outside their front door, or parked on double yellow lines, would feel the force of the law."

Well perhaps this is the case in the world inhabited by newspaper leader writers, but the reality for others is perhaps slightly different, and the suggested ethos of zero tolerance is largely a myth; indeed, perhaps a bit like the oft-heard claim that while thieves and burglars are getting off scot-free, you only have to drive at 32 mph in a 30 mph zone and a hefty fine will soon be troubling your letterbox.

Of course, the reality is that the chances of a speeding motorist being penalised are remote, and indeed the authorities seem to tacitly endorse speeding, for example by highlighting that 'safety' cameras are only located on roads with a history of accidents.

As for parking on double yellow lines, again motorists have to be unfortunate to be ticketed for this; indeed, in Dundee and probably the vast majority of other towns and cities, motorists are only very exceptionally brought to book outside the working hours of parking attendants.

And, in particular, the dumping of a pile of mess outside someone's front door isn't that unusual in certain areas, and the chances of anyone being taken to task for this are probably pretty remote, although no doubt things are different in the worlds inhabited by politicians, senior police officers and indeed newspaper leader writers.

As stated here in Tuesday's post on the subject of travellers and on numerous other occasions, their attitude surely isn't too dissimilar to that of T in the Park 'revellers', but all three of the groups mentioned in the previous paragraph are usually full of praise for the Balado rabble, so why pick on the travellers? Well, to repeat what I said previously, it's just another facet of nimbyism - different standards for different areas and their inhabitants.

Indeed, right on cue and in a further development in NHS Tayside's blur the boundaries crusade against smoking, it seems that Dundee City Council enforcement officers have handed out one fixed-penalty notice to someone who dropped a cigarette end at Ninewells Hospital.

The Courier's headline is the nicely ironic "Ninewells anti-smoking officers kick butt", with a nice pun to boot. But, on a more serious note, this again highlights the hypocrisy of the authorities in view of the thousands of fag ends deposited outside Dundee pubs every weekend.

But whether this is due to gesture politics/policing, the pet priorities of councillors and politicians or simple middle-class nimbyism, there's no doubting the double standards, and this kind of thing only fosters the myth of zero tolerance, whereas the reality is nearer to zero enforcement.

You can just hear them now: you only have to drop a fag end and you're slapped with a £50 fine.

We can butt hope!


Andrew BOD said...


I hope you're not advocating that two wrongs make a right?

Stuart Winton said...

Andrew, well that certainly wasn't my intention, but I daresay if you could point out what you mean I can either acknowledge my double standards over double standards, or alternatively underline to you what I really meant ;0)

Andrew BOD said...


You have a number of good points to make about 'minor' offences going unnoticed whereas travellers illegal siting, damage and littering are all over the newspapers. Fair point. I was merely suggesting in a tongue-in-cheek way that both of these things are worth the concern. I'm sure you are as concerned about travellers' wrongdoings, however, your main post reads as a defence of these things, and I was merely being a tad mischievous ;-)

Stuart Winton said...

Thanks, Andrew. Indeed it may have sounded a bit like I was defending the travellers, but my intention was to highlight the selective enforcement and double standards of the authorities.