You can tell it is a slow news day when the BBC decide that a bit of vandalism counts as major national news.
I also have to admit to a bit of sympathy for Hazel Blears. Whichever way you add it up, she is a victim here and doesn’t deserve being paraded on public display in the way that the BBC and the Manchester Evening News have done here. It is neither big nor clever to broadcast that mobile phone footage.
However, my sympathy ran out as soon as I read her statement:
This was an act of anti-social behaviour by some youths, the same kind of anti-social behaviour unfortunately many of my constituents have to put up with.
No it isn’t. It is criminal behaviour. Labour introduced the concept of anti-social behaviour in the run up to the 1997 general election. Before then, it was was a psychiatric term with a precise and narrow definition.
These days it can mean absolutely anything, from not giving up your seat on a bus to cold blooded murder. Ironically, it can even be made to refer to parking on a double-yellow line – something that Blears can clearly be seen to have done. It is a sad testament to Labour’s 12 years in office that senior politicians like Blears feel they can no longer call a spade a shovel and label this a “crime.” Instead they have to resort to this essentially meaningless jargon. This pretty much sums up the failure of Blears’ career as a Blairite Ultra for me.
This obsession with anti-social behaviour has not only lead to an increasing number of people being locked up for no good reason but seems to have left us feeling less safe than ever before. It is a categorical failure. The best thing that could happen after the 2010 general election is for this concept to be buried once and for all and for us to stop criminalising basic naughtiness. But can anyone imagine David Cameron doing that (or, to be fair, even Nick Clegg)?
Liberal England points to an intriguing story from BBC Leicestershire:
People are lying to the police about anti-social behaviour to get groups of children dispersed, police have said.
A senior policeman admitted there was an increasing trend of residents calling to complain about innocent behaviour, like playing football.
Inspector Andy Ramsey, from Leicestershire Police, said incidents were exaggerated or even invented to ensure officers intervened.
I get the sense this story is merely the tip of the iceberg. And while the young are the obvious victims here, there is something sad about a society where adults are so disempowered and infantilised that this is what they resort to. But then, isn’t this what the “Respect Agenda” is all about?
I’ve been sitting on the url handsoffourfuture.org.uk for a couple of months now, but work pressures have made it very difficult to get things moving.
I’ve been finally spurred into action for two reasons: firstly, Andrew Rawnsley’s article in the Observer this Sunday on the subject of Generational Equity is a clear sign that this issue is increasingly hitting its head against the mainstream. Rawnsley’s namecheck of Tory MP David Willetts suggests that at least he is starting to take these issues on board.Secondly, rumours have been circulating that my own party, the Lib Dems, are on the verge of missing a golden opportunity of taking the initiative on this area with its latest Tax Commission. The Commission is apparently set to water down its proposals for a “Progressive Property Tax” which was to signal a major shift in the burden of taxation away from low income earners and onto property owners.
Frankly, no major party in the UK is tacklingly generational equity in a meaningful way, and why should they when the over-50s are more likely to vote and are more numerous than ever before? What’s more, the old are organised in a way that the young are not. They have their own lobbying groups – Help the Aged, Age Concern, Saga, et al – and they have perfected the whine of the perpetual underdog. For a more perfect example of this, look no further than the campaign against Council Tax. Fixed income pensioners don’t even pay it, and yet it is presented as a social justice issue.
The young are predominently creating the wealth in the UK, and yet they are being stung by the quadruple-whammy of graduate debt, sky-high property values, pensions and income tax. And that’s not counting an uncertain future due to climate change and the fact that the under-20s have been institutionally demonised by a state which has invented the term “anti-social behaviour” as a new tool for keeping the public in a constant state of anxiety. It is time to get our shit together.
This website is intended as a contribution to the debate and as a catalyst for organisation. Although, as editor, I’m a Lib Dem, I’m hoping it will evolve into a truly cross-party initiative (while I’d like to see my own party take a lead on this issue, I’m not convinced it will until the issue is more high profile). If you’re interested then bookmark this page and pay a visit to the accompanying forum.