Finding myself in the middle of the season of goodwill, and perhaps having a little more free time on my hands than I do usually, I thought it only right that I should have a read of the BUCF blog. I’ve generally formed the opinion in the past that spending my time reading the inane semi-political ramblings of such has-beens (or never-will-bes) as Deirdre Alden and her team of little Monday-Clubbers is a waste of my time, but reading that the site has supposedly had over 8000 hits makes me wonder whether BUCF are doing something right.
Top of the blog was an article written by my dear political adversary and ex-BUCF Chair, Mike O’Rourke. Mike’s article was an apparent attempt to attack Tony Blair’s “tough on the causes of crime” mantra – it ranted in a way that would make a Daily Mail editor proud (at least for content and selection). Mike starts by telling us of some stories of violent crimes that have touched him over the last few weeks, and I have to say that these stories touched me in a similar way. Where I thought we differed was in our apportionment of blame for this violent crime-ridden society that he portrayed and of which these crimes were apparently indicative. But reading more into the article made me realise I may be on a similar wavelength to my old adversary after all: it made me think of the story of my old friend, who I shall call Jim.
Jim was born in the early 1980s and brought up in a council estate in a strong mining area of Scotland. The people of that area were a proud and hardworking lot – crime was low, and there was a genuine respect for community in Jim’s town. It was similar to many such industrially-dependent areas across the country. Unfortunately, however, things conspired against poor Jim, his family and his fellow proud town people. The government of the day were doing a thoroughly poor job of managing the economy – it resulted in decimation of the mining industry and annihilated the community.Jim remembers the Prime Minister of the day saying there was no such thing as society, and he was beginning to agree, given what he saw happen around him. He also recalls a man called Mr Tebbit coming on TV and telling everyone how his own father “got on his bike and found a job” when he was unemployed. The following day, little Jim looked out of his window and saw all the unemployed people on their bikes (they didn’t have a limousine driving behind them to carry their briefcases), but the unemployed people just cycled and cycled and couldn’t find any jobs. Young Jim realised however, that the levels of unemployment being in excess of 3 million was probably due to the government’s disastrous economic management. Everyone around had no option but to claim benefits to keep their families alive. The sense of pride that sustained the community for decades disappeared over a matter of months – the sense of community had gone and with it came a noticeable erosion of respect.A few years on, just when everyone thought it couldn’t get any worse, Jim watched TV as a gentleman calling himself the Chancellor walked out with a young man called Cameron on a wet Wednesday in 1992 and told the country his government had again mismanaged the UK economy. No one was really sure what this would mean, until young Jim’s family and the people living around him were unable to pay their mortgages because of huge mortgage rates, which reached 15% during the late 80s and were consistently above 10% into the early 90s. People were losing their homes and being forced into derisory living conditions. This, combined with the terrible rates of unemployment, served only to intensify the problems in Jim’s community. The proud and happy community seemed to become increasingly desperate and the lowering in living standards was accompanied by an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour.
Jim will never forget what the policies of that government did to him and his family. He’ll never forget all the terrible people involved. He still remembers that young man called Cameron, who was on TV with the Chancellor in 1992, and helped write the Conservative party’s manifesto for the 2005 General Election. That manifesto listed lots of spending cuts, all of which would run Jim’s community into levels of deprivation he hadn’t seen since the last time the young man Cameron’s party were in power.
This annihilation of these communities seems to fit in nicely with many of Mike’s suggestions as reasons for the increase in violent crime – breakdown in family, drugs and solvent abuse, lowering educational attainment amongst sections of that community, etc. I cannot imagine Jim’s community is too different to (in fact, is probably better than) most inner-city areas whose character and respect is still deficient as a result of the Tory years – perhaps even comparable to the Moss Side Estate, which is the example Mike considers. Of course, and as ever, the argument given by Mike is based on such a pathetically selective use of statistics that it doesn’t stand up to much rigour of debate, but I shall be delighted to fight that in a future blog.
For the time being, take heed of the story of Jim (whose adventures I’m sure will be continued soon – you need to hear about what has improved under the Labour government in Jim’s area – goodness knows where his community would be if the Tories had continued, or if they return) – it serves to remind us that there is only one way to be tough on crime, and that still is to be tough on the causes of crime. The best way to stay tough on the causes of crime?
To keep the Tories out of power.
John Ritchie is Chair of BULS