Nick Clegg is right to say the violence in London has been unacceptable, and the thieving opportunistic, and the senior police officer put up to do interviews in the absence of a Commissioner right to say the rooters and looters do not represent their communities.
But both are wrong if they see this purely as a law and order issue. The fulminations, though necessary, are not sufficient.
A few months ago, when I was ‘teaching’ in Jamie’s Dream School, I asked the students to come up with campaign ideas. We got Saatchis in to help with slogans and advertising concepts. One of the brightest kids, Nana Kwame, wanted to mount a campaign along the very simple theme that if the government cut youth services, they would see a rise in crime.
This is not a revolutionary idea, and is perfectly consistent with the condemntation of violence and theft. indeed, was it not Mr Clegg himself who warned during the last election that there would be social unrest if the Tories went ahead with their planned programme of cuts? Has he been asked about this yet?
Nana Kwame came from a pretty tough South London background. He had several older brothers in jail. He told me his ambition was not to follow them, and he is making a good fist of meeting that ambition.
But one of the reasons he stayed out of trouble was because he was an active participant, and something of a leader, in a youth club near his home. When we visited Downing Street – sadly this bit was edited out – he told the Prime Minister that he worried that if services like this were cut – it was happening – then kids with nothing to do would take to causing trouble.
Mr Cameron gave something of a politician’s answer. He said the government was making difficult decisions to sort out the economy, local councils were also having to make tough choices, but he was always emphasising to councils good youth services were exactly the kind of services that should not be cut.
Nana Kwame rightly pointed out that this was a case of having your cake and eating it, that he could not absolve himself of any responsibility for these cuts.
As for the posters we made at Dream School, Nana Kwame’s idea for the slogan was very simple – Cut youth services, and it won’t be the only thing being cut,’ illustrated by a knife. Subtle it most certainly was not, but he felt very strongly that what he was saying was true.
in the end we went with something more prosaic and more positive like ‘cut crime not youth services’.
Even if the services have been cut, it is not an excuse to riot, loot and pillage. But a cocktail of youth service cuts, police cuts, and an economic austerity package that does not appear to be working is not a healthy one.
Having had several of my own holidays interrupted by events when I worked for the PM, I hesitate to join the ‘head for home’ bandwagon on that front. But we did always ensure there was a heavy hitter in London, something the government appears not to have done, and what with economic crisis, major loss of military life in Afghanistan and now the riots, this is about as unsilly a silly season as I can recall.
As someone pointed out on my blog earlier, we always tended to have John Prescott in the UK when TB was away. Say what you like about JP, and plenty do, but he was diligent and dutiful in making sure the wheels of government kept turning, and that the PM and others were properly kept in touch.
And it is not just for those managerial reasons that I feel the current government lacks a Prescott type figure. It is also a problem that senior members of the government seem to be cut from much the same cloth. I’m not sure they get the lives of people living in some of the areas where we have seen the worst rioting. And I am not talking about the rooters, but the ones who stayed at home.
‘Power, wealth and responsibility in the hands of the many not the few’ was one of the driving principles of New Labour. We can have an argument about the extent to which we succeeded in meeting that goal. But what cannot be argued is that it was the belief that drove so many of the policies that mattered – Sure Start, minimum wage, New Deal, investment in schools and hospitals, EMAs, devolution to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London … I could go on with a very long list of changes that gave real meaning in people’s lives to a political slogan about extending power, wealth and opportunity.
Power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few … Does anyone believe that comes close to describing the philosophy of the current government?
I wish Nick Clegg well in his efforts to steady the ship. But he also needs to go back to why he thought what he used to think, and reflect on whether he might have had a point.