Recently my pub got burgled. Well, sort of. I mean, nothing was stolen from inside the pub. And they didn’t really have to break in, because the
conniving twatproperty developer who owns the plot behind us left his site open to the street for three weeks, thus circumventing our nice, expensive security gates.
What they actually stole was about 8 feet, in two L-shaped segments, of copper piping. This has a retail market value, new, of perhaps a tenner. Second hand, that’s maybe six to nine quid. Cost to us, between one and two thousand pounds because said bits of pipe were plumbed into the industrial chiller system which keeps my cellar cold. In other words, someone came along in the night and ripped from the wall, with their bare hands, two pipes through which coolant fluid was circulating, then walked away leaving it draining on the ground.
Now, I don’t like it when my cellar warms up, it’s very bad for the beer. I also don’t particularly like it when people steal bits of my plumbing. But since I’ve chosen to think politically, I can’t let even a stupid event like this go by without contextualising it within this growing economic recession.
As I see it this could in theory be one of two things: theft or vandalism. Dealing with them in reverse order: if it’s vandalism, then it is a sign of social disorder. It’s a sign of people who’re prepared to break things just to express their frustration with a failed socio-economic system; regardless of who the things belong to. It’s the symptom of anger and desperation and despondency. And I really wish people in my city weren’t forced to such acts. I wish they could realistically hope to get a job; that they could realistically count on healthcare when they are too ill to work, and pastoral care when they’re too ill to cope. I wish they could trust in a national social conscience which says that recessions are what the Welfare State were invented to cope with; that the state’s social agenda should be dominated by helping the poorest, not the richest, survive the next ten years. But the people who live around me in London can’t trust in those things. All they can be sure of is taxation without any kind of effective representation.
Alternatively, it could be theft, either amateur or professional. If it’s amateur theft, then everything I’ve just said applies just as well, with the rider that I also wish six months wasn’t enough time to drive ordinary, hard-working people into industrial burglary, but it is: when there is no safety-net, the people who fall out of the cogs in the machine fall very fast and they hit very hard.
If this was professional theft, then let’s look at the realities here. Pulling those pipes from their restraining mounts, and then exerting sufficient lever action to tear two 2cm copper pipes off at each end so that they could walk away with the metal, will have taken some time. The angles were inconvenient, the pipes sturdy and the effort considerable. Let’s estimate half an hour for a successful theft. Let’s also guess that instead of being opportunists who are just wandering the streets late at night with a shopping trolley looking for bits of metal they can break off buildings, these guys were organised and had scoped a series of sites in the local area for visiting on a single night. They might realistically pull, say, seven of these jobs in a night. So, they (and evidence suggests there were at least two involved) have just spent a night risking arrest and long-term imprisonment for a total reward of less than forty pounds a head.
Professional theft happens with three or four zeros on the end of it, or in the case of the financial industry, ten or twelve such zeros. No-one who can think up a more effective crime method will walk around tearing pipes off walls on an ad hoc basis. Beyond that: these things were filled with some local equivalent of Freon. Industrial coolant systems are toxic, corrosive, dangerous and very very cold. So these thieves were also placing themselves at considerable risk of injury and agony, all for maybe ten pounds worth of copper.
Does that seem like a high-achieving crime strategy to you? It seems to me like an act of economic desperation. People have been nicking the lead off church roofs for decades, and it’s always been an act of desperation. So much physical and legal danger, but at least with a roof you end up with a very considerable lead weight. These guys were nicking pipes. I can see no way that anyone would do the above risk/reward calculation and decide it was a good idea. It’d be safer and more rewarding, even under current law, to get into dealing marijuana or working for the London Underground. Which means the level of desperation represented here is extreme.
I don’t want to see people forced to steal my pipes. I like them where they are, keeping my beer at a nice 12C, but that isn’t the point. In 2003 I didn’t want to see the brave and the few (by which I mean British servicemen and women) forced to risk their bodies in bizarre hybrid of Monopoly and Risk. Today I don’t want to watch the people I see every day in the pub or on the bus forced to desperate, dangerous measures to try and feed their kids.
New Labour has been all about cosmetics. Let’s make Labour look more smiley. Plaster enough red on and no-one will notice we’ve turned into moderate conservatives. Sex up the dossier and no-one will question until it’s too late. Cosmetic responses to this crisis will not work. We need to see change, a rededication of social conscience from the personal profit motivations of the post-Thatcher era into something different; a social conscience based once more upon the public good.