Normally people like us are some of the most vocal in the land. Yet we have become afraid.
Michael Williams is speaking here on behalf of the liberal elite of London. He is a journalist in the liberal press; his neighbours in one of the 'coolest' and most respectable parts of inner London include a senior diplomat, a professor and an eminent architect.
Who are they afraid of? A gang of youths who spend the summer nights in their garden square.
The youths flout the law, drinking and smoking dope, damaging property and making threats. The police won't respond and the residents are too scared to take action themselves.
Williams, despite his own liberal credentials, thinks that the liberal mentality might be partly to blame:
One of the main problems, I believe, is a middle-class conspiracy of silence. Not simply because of the fear of crime itself, but because of a fear of seeming illiberal or intolerant. Sometimes our local residents' meetings can be like a version of Radio 4's Moral Maze, with more hand-wringing than solutions.
Those who are bold enough to complain are mostly older and working-class. Many stay silent. None of us wants to be viewed as a reactionary ...
He recognises too the "Putnam effect": the hunkering down of individuals into social isolation in a diverse society,
In the meantime, our sense of civic responsibility and community continues to diminish. I see more of the youths than I do of my neighbours most days.
... What was meant to be an embracing live-and-let-live acceptance of difference has hardened, over years of soft-thinking, into a live-and-let-live indifference.
Nor is Williams a lone voice. Andrew Anthony is another left-liberal Londoner who has written lately on the same themes. He too writes sadly of summer crime:
After the third burglary, I bought a baseball bat for protection, and on a visit to a friend's house I noticed that he had the same make of bat in his bedroom ... He too had suffered one too many burglaries. The previous summer a burglar had gained access to his house through his two-year-old daughter's bedroom. He climbed over the little girl's bed as she lay asleep. Because it was such a balmy night my friend had left his daughter's window slightly open.
When I heard this, my first thought was, 'How could he have been so slack?' So adjusted had I become to the need to turn one's home into a fortress that I found it unnatural to allow air into a stuffy room. That an intruder would climb in I took, by contrast, as utterly normal.
What went wrong? Anthony is ready to criticise the left-liberalism he once championed. He no longer believes that "leave alone" values such as respect and tolerance are enough to inspire people to look out for each other:
A society that places emphasis on respecting others has next to nothing to say about protecting others.
He points to a contradiction in the liberal view of the police, in which the police aren't trusted and therefore are stripped of their powers, whilst still being expected to protect people from physical danger:
The standard liberal view of the police is a complex and sometimes mystifying affair. By convention they are perceived as the enforcers of the status quo, Little Englanders in blue, restrictive, authoritarian, abusers of the poor and minorities, defenders of 'them' rather than 'us'. That image has changed a little in the post-Macpherson era but a good liberal still errs in favour of not trusting the police. We want them to back off, we don't want them to stop and search, we don't want them to carry arms, and most of all we want them to be there instantly to deal with any situation that threatens physical danger.
After witnessing a particularly violent street attack, Anthony felt unable to process what had happened in liberal terms:
the more I thought about it ... the more I realised that there wasn't a liberal vocabulary with which to describe the situation. Indeed, even a phrase like 'civic decency' sounded fuddy-duddy, uptight, somehow right-wing.
He was no longer willing to find excuses for the event:
There was a liberal way of talking about the culprits. It involved referring to their poor education and difficult home lives and the poverty they suffered ... I had no appetite for that kind of reasoning. It blamed nebulous society and excused not just the individuals but also the community of which they were a part.
It seems that crime has London's middle-class liberals cornered. They haven't managed to remove themselves entirely from the consequences of their own politics.
As a result, at least some of these liberals are no longer as complacent in identifying with a mainstream left-liberalism. This is especially true in the case of Andrew Anthony, a point I'll develop further in my next post.