Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Answering Fire with Fire

Understandably, the Prime Minister calls for law and order and promises that control over the situation will be imposed. Good. But, does this mean that the cuts that are in the process of being imposed on the police will be eased to ensure no repeat of the conflagration?

Let’s ask another question. If the cuts on the police budget are eased, will there be a corresponding ease on the cuts to those services which are likely to help restore community well-being – the youth clubs, the community workers and all the fine services that have recently been forced to break up? I doubt it.

In reality, government does not want to know about people who commit these ‘crimes against society’ – it draws back from dealing with the source of the problem, which is primarily alienation of the youths in deprived areas. Government has never properly cared about these issues.

When the British economy picked up during the early 90s, the riot problems manifest in the 70s and 80s looked as though they had gone away, and particularly when Labour came into power in 1997, it at least spent some money on trying to ease the pressure on lower income people. But Labour never really thought there was a community problem any longer as there had been in the 70s and 80s and – disastrously - took its eyes off the issue. Now it has come home to roost for Cameron and his blanket cuts policy in the spectrum of an entire generation without hope of jobs nor reasonable housing.

Let me see. When the bankers committed their extortions in the last few years, did society round on them and condemn them as criminals? No. But youths without hope can commit crimes (which they are) but are referred to in different terms to the bankers. Is this fair? And will the government now address the real needs of those youths, both for their benefit and the whole of society?

Between 1976 and 1977, I spent some 10 months working for the Lambeth CREC in a hostel project in Brixton, thinking that perhaps it was a fine opportunity to enter a new career in community work. Was it heck. The fine-sounding project (worked for by people of the ilk of (Sir) Herman Ouseley) was run on institutional lines, and despite protests from myself and others to the CREC, nothing was changed. Eventually (after I had left it) the project had to be wound down. Despite the initial optimism, the project became proof that, when it comes down to it, government machinery only ends up by working to serve the needs of the establishment. I have seen the same mentality in other areas. Times don't seem to have changed.

Cameron – you have a big opportunity to have society’s ills examined and corrected. The test is now whether you have the balls to do ‘it’, i.e. create that Big Society you keep talking about. Snag is, the Chipping Norton model might not be appropriate for Tottenham and other inner city areas.