Time for action on Big Society

As MPs went through the motions in Parliament, having been recalled, I hope at least a few of them, including those on the Tory benches, took the opportunity to ask David Cameron how, given the events of that triggered the recall, he intends to put his Big Society vision in to practice.

Surely, the recent, both horrifying and depressing, events across mainly England, are a confirmation of what David Cameron has been saying since he became Party leader. His biggest problem now, is the risk of being accused of being all talk and no action. Can he really expect all those people who turned out on the streets of London, armed with brooms and bin bags, to keep doing so from now on, without something more than words of encouragement from his government? If he does, then his vision is doomed already.

Just like a train needs tracks to run, Big Society will only work if it has the right sort of infrastructure to support it. People are demanding no more cuts in police budgets, so that more officers can be put on the streets and that is one solution. However, the heavy hand of authority is the way regimes such Syria, Lybia and Zimbabwe control their populations. I don’t think any right minded citizen would wish to see the UK go down this route, if only because it fails completely to address the underlying issues. Policing is the answer, but not neccesaraily high police numbers. Policing focussed on and based in the community, in other words, a return to a form of the good old village bobby.

If David Cameron believes that the Big Society can work, he could do worse than start by reintroducing genuine local policing. This could be in the form of a proper community based police officer, complete with office and house – sound familiar? Or, as works in other European countries such as Holland, community wardens living and working in their communities. Recent events in Japan also highlighted their system of community based officials. I also understand that it is common practice to see mini-police offices on many street corners, providing genuine community based policing.

The key to this approach is ensuring that there are enough boots on the ground, as they say in the military – over to you Dave.

Riots, a truly classless problem

Am I the only one beginning to see evidence emerging that proves we are indeed living in a society that, if not actually broken, has certainly lost its moral compass.

Commentators, politicians and social activists have all been trying to identify a well defined group of criminals as being responsible for the recent riots. As well as being feral and disaffected, these people are supposedly lacking in hope and are forced in to their extreme responses because of their frustrations with a society that has abandoned them. This has lead many to become outright criminals.

However, a quick scan of the details of those who have been through the courts, reveals a much more disturbing fact. Not only are many of those currently bailed or sentenced in gainful employment, a number are very well educated and some were about to embark on productive careers.

If you can’t pin loutish, anti-social, or even criminal behaviour on a disadvantaged background, then you have found yourself a completely new can of worms to open. The Government now has to examine the whole spectrum of our society. It needs to identify how we have distrorted the morals of those involved in theses riots to the extent that, no matter what their backgrounds, they felt that it was, if not okay to do what they did, it was certainly worth the risk.

If it was just a case of reconnecting us all with our lost respect for authority and in particular the law, then that would be easy. More police on the streets, a zero tolerance approach to low level crime and a crime and punishment system that isn’t paralyised by political correctness of the liberal left and the extremes of the Human Rights Act. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that it is anywhere near as simple as that and that what we are dealing with is a state of mind that many of those in charge and over the age of 50 might have difficulty getting their heads around. Why over 50? Well, I think the rot set in the late 60’s, started in our schools and has been reinforced by numerous political decisions and social changes since then.

When my father was alive and something about kids behaving badly was reported in the papers, or came on the TV, one of his favoured comments was, ‘what we need is another bl***ing war, that’ll give ’em something else to think about!’. Given his experiences in WW2, that was a bit extreme to say the least, but I could see where he was coming from. The consumer and celebrity obsessed society we have allowed to develop in this country, has distorted the attitudes of recent generations to what is important and to their place in the world. I fear it will take much more than a few years of David Cameron’s Big Society to fix it – I just hope it doesn’t take another war.

Police or community? Why not both?

As MPs go through the motions in Parliament today, I hope at least a few of them, including those on the Tory benches, take the opportunity to ask David Cameron how, given the events of that last 7 days, he intends to put his Big Society vision in to practice.

Surely, the recent horrifying and depressing events across England, are a confirmation of what David Cameron has been saying since he became Party leader. His biggest problem now, is being seen as all talk and no action. Can he really expect all those people who turned out on the streets of London, armed with brooms and bin bags, to keep on being so community spirited, without something more than words of encouragement from his government? If he does, then his vision is doomed already.

Just like a train needs a track to run on, Big Society needs the right sort of infrastructure to support it. People are demanding no more cuts in police budgets, so that more officers can be put on the streets – that’s one solution. However, the heavy hand of authority is the way regimes such Syria, Lybia and Zimbabwe control their populations. I don’t think any right minded citizen would wish to see the UK go down this route, if only because it fails completely to address the underlying issues. Policing is the answer, but not neccesaraily high police numbers. Policing focussed on and based in the community, in other words, a return to a form of the good old village bobby.

If David Cameron believes that the Big Society can work, he could do worse than start by reintroducing genuine local policing. This could be in the form of a proper community based police officer, complete with office and house – sound familiar? Or, as works in other European countries such as Holland, community wardens living and working in their communities. Recent events in Japan also highlighted their system of community based officials. I also understand that it is common practice to see mini-police offices on many street corners in Japan, providing genuine community based policing. The key to this approach is ensuring that there are enough boots on the ground, as they say in the military – over to you Dave.

Policing by consent?

Theresa May displays an extraordinary lack of understanding of modern Britain, if she thinks the old model of permissive policing continues to be the way forward for dealing with these rioters.

Her generation, which is also mine, may well continue to have a life long respect for the police, but can this be said of many of the young people in this country? – I think not.

Witness the drunk behaviour of many thousands of our young people on our streets every Friday and Saturday night and the abuse our police officers experience when dealing with them. Witness the speed with which groups of jeering and abusive youths collect wherever police officers enter a rundown housing estate in pursuit of boy racers, or yobs on illegal motor bikes.

If these young people have no respect for the rule of law, or for the police officers charged with enforcing it, then in the short term, a different and possibly more aggressive, or even brutal, approach is needed.

Those arrested for any form of public order offence, should receive a good deal more than a police caution or an ASBO, both of which are worn as badges of honour by these often feral youths. Persistently drunken behaviour should always be rewarded with a 7 day stay in a drunk tank. Lower level criminal behaviour by an under 25, should see the culprit delivered in to the arms of disciplinarians and educators, based in a boot camp. Very expensive suggestions yes, but what’s the alternative, sweep it all under the political carpet and pretend it’s just a few bad eggs?

Longer term, we need to fix the broken society that has created these non- citizens, before they go on to spawn another lost generation.

Tottenham riots not just a local issue

Whilst the weekend riots in Tottenham are ringing numerous alarm bells, most of these appear to relate to the immediate issues of the police response and how a peaceful protest turned into a violent one.

For me, the flaw in the approach of pandering to the bellowing headlines that demand immediate answers and equally immediate solutions, is that it allows the politicians to duck the really hard questions. The first of these is, does this expose how thin the veneer of civilised society in this country is? In other words, are we fooling ourselves in to thinking that, given the opportunity, the same thing would not happen in practically every other city, town and village in this country?

Why such a depressing view of British society? Well, just look at our urban centres any Friday or Saturday night and the complete lack of self respect for both themselves and the police, displayed by our young people. Using the excuse of alcohol is a cop out in my opinion and allows those in power to duck the real issue of an increasingly failing society. David Cameron made reference to this in a recent speech and sadly I think he is right. Equally sad, is the fact that he didn’t seem to have any idea what to do about it other than something called the ‘Big society’.

The second issue to come from these riots for me, is the police response. The low level policing of a peaceful protest march had to morph into all out riot control almost instantly. If this had been anywhere else but London with its (relative to the rest of the country) high levels of police numbers, one wonders how much worse it could have been. Having drafted in police from other areas, including Kent I believe, did this then leave those area vulnerable to the same criminal behaviour? News reports from the following day, reporting incidents of sporadic rioting and looting breaking out in other areas of London, one can only suggest that the answer is yes. Even if it was a case of the criminals migrating via their Blackberry based intelligence network and not a case of other (normally law abiding people?) taking advantage, the issues remain the same, can the police cope now and what happens when the cuts in policing numbers take effect?

I hope I’m wrong and that when they do their inevitable post riot navel gazing exercise, part of it involves an analysis of where police officers were draft in from and where the subsequent rioting and looting took place and that this shows my fears to be unfounded.

Finally, where these two concerns come together – social breakdown and policing numbers – lies in the question, what are the politicians going to do about it? Despite David Cameron’s Big Society idea, our politicians are clearly failing to offer us any real solutions. This policy void brings me to another question – where next?

My solutions? Initially, more police on the streets, applying a zero tolerance policy and a justice system that doesn’t continue to think a police caution is a deterrent to anything. Longer term and much more difficult and expensive to do, is addressing the causes of the social breakdown. This comes from the lack of respect, for both themselves and others that we see in many young people these days, namely poor parenting and poor schooling and needs to be addressed before it damages another generation of children.

All we need now is a benevolent dictatorship, so that these policies can be implemented and not derailed by the liberal lefties who want to hug the hoodies- sorry Dave!