Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"if Frank Field was leader of Labour I’d vote for him over David Cameron any day"

So would I, mate. So would I.

The great man holds forth in the Telegraph :

Britain was once a self-governing commonwealth where the vast majority were brought up to offer other people the respect with which we would wish to be treated.

No, Frank - you've fallen for the myth of a golden age that never was. Don't you read the Guardian ?

Part of the liberal establishment has always denied this truth, but it has to be the starting point for any discussion of today's politics of behaviour. What this liberal elite of well-meaning, well-heeled individuals is loth to concede is that, by the time we moved into the 20th century, the full impact of Evangelicalism, and the secularisation of this great force by the Labour movement, developed a mass culture of respectability.

For 50 years or more, Britain's families taught the social skills necessary for a self-governing community. That culture is now ruptured. The Government is right to insist that a line has to be drawn against this rising tide of disorder, which is now so widespread that many decent citizens have given up reporting on it. The Government's strategy is, however, dangerously flawed. Its whole anti-social behaviour strategy is built to reflect the criminal justice system. The aim ought to be to keep society's new forms of protection as far away as possible from a centrally run justice system. We need, crucially, to build up a community's own self-defence, while at the same time trying to free as many of the new underclass as possible.

If the number of new, centrally directed initiatives were the criteria for success, Britain would have cracked the yob culture. In order to tackle what is in effect the breakdown of families - Britain's major social crisis - the Government has introduced 42 new Asbo-type powers. And that figure is no misprint. How can anyone implement a strategy that is changing on this scale?

Here is a real test for Gordon Brown in his intent to pass power back to the people. The Blair Government has resolutely refused to back the simple reform I have been advocating which will give communities the power once again to police their own neighbourhood. A local community has a right to go into court and ask the magistrates to bring before them an offending yob. The magistrates can issue a warrant, but, even if the whole community is in court demanding action, the magistrate has no power to enforce the warrant in what is deemed a private action.

The law needs to be changed so that magistrates can rule that the request for immediate action is a public matter. The police would then be required to enforce the warrant. The aim would be to bring the perpetrators of the disorder before the court that day.

Acting swiftly will often nip in the bud actions that, if allowed to fester, will only get worse. Such a reform would also devolve power back to what often are the grandmothers of a district. This one simple reform would also end the intolerable position whereby working-class people on the end of yobbish behaviour have to plead their case for action through middle-class intermediaries, such as youth justice teams.

Tell it like it is !

The rise of yobbish behaviour is the flip-side of the breakdown of families
. Who in the community can play the role of the surrogate parent? The only people who can do this are the police.

They ought to have the power, like a football referee, to issue warnings and then, if the warnings are ignored, to impose the restriction on the behaviour there and then. The offender would have the freedom to go to court, but, hopefully, bad behaviour would again be nipped in the bud. This way, most young offenders will be kept out of the criminal justice system.

My worry here is - are the police up to the job of what is basically a social worker with teeth ? And are the courts up to the job of enforcing the restrictions ? And will there be enough prison places to make examples of those who will want to push the envelope ?

Making examples is tremendously important. One of the disasters of the move towards an individual rights-based culture is that the effect of example is discounted. It may be (I don't really believe this) that the Howard League are right, that banging up poor Kyle confirms him as a criminal. But if a few kids on Kyle's estate take note of his fate and decide that maybe he's not a good role model, the overall effect is a good one. (In fact our rulers are quite happy to make examples if it's something they really care about - like racist attacks by whites. They believe it works too.)

This strategy must also be matched by one to help the young underclass free themselves from the appalling predicament in which they live. Again we must resist the strategy that is imposed from the centre. The aim must be to empower individuals.

Last year, nearly 30,000 young people left school after 12 years of state investment costing £1 billion without a single GCSE pass. This is an extreme example but it illustrates a more general truth. The political class has failed to devise an adequate system of secondary education.

Bang ! Every one a hit !

Locking up children longer in education - the Government's new aim - will not work for the most disadvantaged. We need to move to a leaving certificate that would allow young people to move into work as soon as they have basic skills. These young people should then be able to draw down later the value of the education that currently fails them.

This reform would give breathing space for the huge revolution in thought and deed that is required to begin a national network of successful secondary schools.

Anyone interested in how we got here should read Families Without Fatherhood (pdf) nby Norman Dennis.

Also at today's Telegraph, this wonderful Garland cartoon.


Anonymous said...

"My worry here is - are the police up to the job of what is basically a social worker with teeth ? "

Hah! It's the job they are doing now.

Sans teeth, of course...

The Sage of Muswell Hill said...

"Sans teeth, of course.."

OTOH, you ought to see them dealing with men intending to throw eggs or children playing hopscotch or women reading out loud within 1 km of Parliament: they're fearless, fierce and effective.

James Higham said...

The Judeo-Christian values which underpinned society are what has gone. The rot is inside the family and the parents themselves are where all values stem from. It's taken two generations but it's now gone.

I'm not suggesting for a moment we were a Christian society but the limits and the role model were there to kick against. Now there's a morally relative fog.

Anonymous said...

Frank mentions the root cause only in passing. How do we unravel the mess the previous generation has made of married life, fatherhood and so on? Those young men that have never known a father have no way of becoming good fathers themselves.

The only real way of sorting out the mess is to force people to make better choices. Women have to be made to have children only with those men that are likely to be good providers and fathers. You can only do that by kicking away the safety net of the welfare state. The state, as the representative of the people, should not give those that wish to live "experimental" lifestyles carte blanche to do as they please - not where children are concerned.

Take away the right to welfare for those that have never worked and young people will suddenly change their views and priorities.

You won't hear that from Frank Field of course....