Absailing down a lift shaft for men of advancing years, if true, preparatory to breaking into the safety deposit boxes of people for whom tax is up there with poverty as words belonging to a foreign language, is surely the stuff of a sixties British caper movie. I’m thinking here of the original Italian Job starring Michael Caine. In fact ever since the heist took place, I’ve found myself breaking out into regular renditions of “This is the self preservation society” in a bad Cockney accent.
Despite the efforts of the Met to put a positive spin on the recent flurry of arrests in connection with the heist, how many of us can honestly say that their admiration and sympathy has lain with the police and not the men they arrested as prime suspects?
An entire industry built on the criminal escapades of mafia hoods, East End gangsters, hardmen, and old lags – consisting of books, plays, movies, documentaries – could not exist without mainstream society’s fascination with those who make their own rules and live outside the law. Crimes such as Hatton Garden – where no violence is involved – allow us to experience the vicarious thrill of confounding the dull conformity that governs everyday life. When the world’s most famous miserabilist, Nietzsche, wrote, “Morality is the herd instinct in the individual,” perhaps he had a point.
The romance associated with the outlaw has always been a feature of human society. Legends surrounding those who rebel against authority, against society and all its mores and conventions, are passed down from generation to generation.
Where does the admiration for such people come from? Is it the product of a latent anti establishment and anti authoritarian instinct which resides within more of us than society would care to admit; and which, when push comes to shove, holds the police and the law more as an oppressive factor in our lives than the glue which holds society together? Does this then lead us to view those individuals who fight the law and rebel against society as representing our own latent desire to be free of its constraints?
The amount involved in the Hatton Garden heist is said to be around £200million. Compared to the £122 billion in taxpayers money in response to the financial crisis caused by their greed and recklessness, it’s a mere drop in the ocean.
Yet when did we see news footage of a phalanx of police officers descending on the leafy mansions of those responsible for the banking crisis, a crisis that in turn plunged the entire UK economy into recession, leading to years of austerity and despair for millions up and down the country? As for those who point out that there was no criminal intent involved in the banking crisis, the Libor scandal is your answer.
The German playwright Bertolt Brecht made the point that it’s a “far greater crime to own a bank than to rob one.” Who could possibly disagree given what we’ve been through these past seven years?
The most dangerous criminals in society are not those who go up ‘against’ the system, it is those who uphold the injustice ‘of’ the system. And you’ll find many of those with titles and letters attached to their names, parading themselves as virtuous paragons of decency.
Don’t be fooled.
The £12billion in further cuts to public spending by a freshly-installed and red in tooth and claw Tory government will wreak far more havoc and damage to society than a hundred jewel heists could ever do. This is the contradiction at the heart of an economic system that treats poverty as a crime and wealth as a virtue. Greed, selfishness – we’ve been conditioned to view both as virtues rather than the symptoms of sociopathic behaviour. The consequence has been the atomisation of communities as more and more are delivered into the arms of destitution in the name of fiscal responsibility. The unemployed, the disabled, and migrants are the enemy, we are told, while the rich are the cream of the crop.
Sorry, I disagree.
I’d rather be a Hatton Garden jewel thief than a banker. In fact, doesn’t it have a ring to it? I can just hear it being sung on the terraces at football grounds up and down the country.
All together now…