Wednesday, August 10, 2011

David Cameron's tough talk shows he doesn't get it - sick people need healing, not imprisonment and water cannon

Just after 11, David Cameron came out of Downing Street with the full intention of sounding tough. And he did. He basically said that the Police would have whatever they needed, potentially including water cannon, to get a grip on the appalling violence and destruction we've seen in England's cities over the last few days. Those horrible events took an even worse turn with the deaths of 3 men hit by a car in Birmingham.

It's a grim picture - but what is the answer?

For David Cameron, it's getting tough with the offenders, locking them up, making it clear to them that such wanton destruction and irresponsibility won't be tolerated. He talked about a section of society that was sick - but, surely, what sick people need is healing, not being locked away to learn more about crime.

Cameron is tapping into the clear and understandable desire of fearful and angry victims of the destruction, backed up by many who are watching on tv, to see the people who set homes and shops on fire, who helped themselves to the contents of businesses owned and worked in by their neighbours, strictly dealt with. He might need to think more about what is going to work in the long term to sort this out.

When I talked about healing, you probably thought "ah, bleeding heart liberal, soft on crime, etc etc etc".  Well, actually, no, the healing process from trauma, illness, addiction can be pretty darned uncomfortable and painful. It can actually be worse than the condition itself. Learning about the consequences of your behaviour and changing your ways is much more difficult than joining your mates in prison for a few months to learn more about crime.

So, I think Cameron was wrong to be talking in terms of long and swingeing prison sentences. I say get the people who caused this destruction tagged, curfewed and out there rebuilding the communities they have destroyed. Let them sit in a room while a shopkeeper explains exactly the effect their looting has had on them and their family. The immediate clear up has been done by councils and teams of volunteers, but these communities will have scars for a long time. Get the perpetrators rebuilding those places they burnt down. Get them to understand that their granny or their friends' granny might just lose their home carer because the cash strapped local council has to pay to clear up the mess they've made.

And, no, it's not ok to go stealing from large corporations either. We'll all end up paying, in higher prices, because these companies will want to recoup their losses. And that might well cost people in your area their jobs.

I choked a bit when I heard Cameron talk about mindless selfishness as if this was something confined to the people who have been out on the streets. Maybe he should look a bit closer to home, to the company he keeps, or has kept in the past, with rich bankers who are strangling viable businesses, who have concentrated on the accumulation of wealth for a few. Mrs Thatcher didn't invent greed and selfishness, by any stretch of the imagination, but her assertions that there was "no such thing as society" are no small factor in the mess we are seeing today.

When I heard Cameron talk this morning, it made me worried that Stephen Glenn might have been right when he talked about Parliament potentially being asked to implement draconian, illiberal and way over the top measures in an attempt to be seeing to be doing something robust. Like Dan Falchikov, I believe that our Liberal Democrat MPs should vote against such measures. Legislation passed in an instant is rarely good law, and to be honest it seems to be a resource issue in terms of policing rather than them needing any extra powers. The fact that Lady Mark told us this morning that the Lords is being recalled tomorrow as well makes me very uneasy that legislation is on the cards.

The range of things that needs to happen to deal with the causes of the violence we've seen is huge. Yes, parenting is a part of it and I hope that Cameron has CentreForum's parenting report from last week at his bedside. Most parents of 12 year olds knew exactly where their children were last night - it breaks my heart that, as Liberal England has pointed out, some of them were causing mayhem on the streets of Leicester.

Stephanie Ashley doesn't blog very often, but when she does, she talks sense, particularly in relation to the idea that we're spending billions losing the war on drugs that could be going into the sort of healing work these people need.

Please also go and read Kelvin Holdsworth's post givingthe speech he wants to hear Cameron make tomorrow. I won't be holding my breath, but I think it would be great to hear the PM say:
I begin by acknowledging that I know what it is to share in the excitement of lawless behaviour when young. My membership of the Bullingdon club whilst at University is well documented and a period of my life which I look back on with shame and regret. Of course, I came from a background where the distruction of that club could be paid for from the immense priviledge that my friends and I had been received in life. My revulsion at my youthful association with a lawless (if immensely rich) gang leads me now to a determination to fight back at all gang cultures wherever they are found. Gang membership provides a narrative to youth – the task for us today is to outline a narrative for the nation that will capture the imagination of the country.
and, on how we should build a new, fairer country:
We must establish a new economic narrative which seeks the common good and not only individual financial gain. Such uncontested craving for individual gain has brought us to this point where our institutions are corrupted and our streets are not safe. We are coming too late to the realisation that the country needs a more just and progressive economic system rather than a system whereby the great financial institutions face little penalty for gambling away the pensions of the country and taxation is based on how little we can justify as payment for paltry public services. There is change in the air and the challenge I offer the House today is the challenge to win the battle for hearts and minds in the struggle for fair and just taxation and not merely the lowest common denominator taxes which have been at the heart of our political debates for decades.
This only scratches the surface, but I could happily live with Kelvin as PM.

Kelvin talked about gang culture, and there's almost certainly an element to that in what we've been seeing over the last few days, with events being co-ordinated and organised. We might want to spare a thought on this article from the Guardian last year, which shows that we might be seeing property disrespected by the gangs, but abuse of women is a huge problem too, and any long term solution will need to tackle these sorts of attitudes and behaviours.

We've got a chance to do something different here. We can decide to punish and let fester, or start on a cure. The latter is not a soft option and it's one we ignore at our peril.


subrosa said...

Why is the Bullingdon Club so reviled by those who weren't fortunate enough to go to Eton? I'm weary of it entering into every conversation about David Cameron and other tory politicians and it looks rather like envy more than anything else these days.

More seriously, I don't blame this on the tories and I'm no tory supporter. The policies Blair introduced has removed parents' ability to discipline their children (and I don't mean physical punishment). They have also removed teachers ability to discipline children. Most adult society is too frightened to parent properly these days in case one word is misinterpreted and the family end up on a social work register. I'm speaking about families across society here.

When we have laws which punish the victims and let the criminals go free there's something wrong yet few protested. It goes on every day. An 85 year old war vet was imprisoned for 6 months for audio recording in court yet Perth prison has criminals who have committed far worse crimes, which seriously affect others, and they're given a meagre fine which of course they'll never pay.

Our youth have witnessed this in the past 20 years. Why are we angry at their behaviour now?

They're not sick in physical or mental terms, but sadly they've been deprived of a good upbringing all because of laws which victimise those who are capable of providing it. None are deprived in the physical sense, in fact many of the looters and rioters are wearing gear I could never have afforded even when I earned a good salary.

Sadly these young people have not been taught the consequences of stupid actions. To try to educate them now would be a fruitless task, but I agree with you Caron, we have to try. Firstly though many laws need to be revised to accommodate common sense.

Simon McG said...

"rich bankers who are strangling viable businesses,"

Really , what evidence do you have of this. why would it benefit a banker to strangle a viable business?

Unknown said...

More than enough, Simon.Plenty examples of viable businesses being refused reasonable lending & being grossly over charged for what they do get. A disgrace.

Simon mcgrath said...

caron, the trouble as any banker who has been involved with lending to small business it is very high risk. small business owners can frequently offer no security and are over optimistic about their businesses.

bankers actually have to be reasonably sure they will get the money (our money ) back.


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