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The Ros Dodd column



The self-delusive Tony Blair today claimed “screaming” headlines have often prevented a rational debate on how to tackle crime. Really? I thought we had a Government strong and moral enough to rise above tabloid prose. In a speech in Bristol, the Prime Minister talked of a “huge and growing gap” between the criminal justice system and what the public expects of it, saying the rights of suspects should not “outweigh” those of the “law-abiding majority”.

Hang on a minute. Is this the same Tony Blair who as long as 13 years ago vowed to be “tough on crime and the causes of crime”? Doesn't he recognise his failure to deliver on this pledge even though it's slapping him in the face?

Perhaps he's been reading closely the “screaming” headlines over the past few weeks, which have detailed a catalogue of appalling stories of violence perpetrated by what Society likes to label “mindless yobs”.

A 76-year-old grandfather, sitting on a bench at a busy seafront, has a brick smashed into his face and both his wrists broken by two “thugs” trying to wrench off his gold watch. Two killers are jailed for 28 years for the homophobic beating to death of a gay barman. Three teenagers are jailed for a total of 45 years after killing a 17-year-old boy by stamping on, kicking and punching him before stripping him naked and dragging him into the sea where he drowned. The list goes on.

Dreadful stories such as these, together with the recent spate of knife killings, can only cause people like me to wring their hands in despair at the spiralling sub-culture churning beneath the civilised veneer of modern-day Britain.

I'm not naïve; I know savagery has been endemic from the moment humans began populating the planet (although Labour Party Chairman Hazel Blears today insisted the nature of crime had changed, hence, presumably, the inability of the Government to tackle it effectively), but as a mother I worry about what the future holds for my young daughter as she grows up in a world apparently awash with violent disregard of the law and chilling hatred of people from different cultural backgrounds.

However, I also worry about the “mindless yobs”. Such people are not born; they are made. Their parents are largely culpable for them turning into vicious criminals, but Society in general - and governments in particular - must also shoulder some blame.

Thuggish behaviour is perpetrated largely by a specific type of person - typically someone from a broken home living on a so-called sink estate with no prospects and with no one who cares a jot about where they are and what they are doing. Just like the scenario played out in William Golding's powerful novel Lord of the Flies, such youngsters - denied the civilising limitations of discipline and tutored regard for their fellow humans - resort to barbaric responses to a world that, effectively, has deserted them.

As we wring our hands in despair, we should also be hanging our heads in shame. We are helping no one - not the thugs, not their victims and not Society.
I believe that to tackle this apparent surge in mindless savagery, we have to look at a number of issues. Nine years after Blair came to power, with his “tough on crime and the causes of crime” words ringing in our ears, what has changed? Well, quite a lot - but largely for the worse. Crime is as rampant as ever, Her Majesty's prisons are overflowing and the number of disenfranchised young people appears to be growing rather than diminishing.

It is time to face reality rather than pander to political correctness. There needs to be a change in the law that allows the possibility of penalising the parents of “thugs” for bringing up their children so badly the youngsters turned to crime. We should also dispense with the nonsensical idea of trying to get 50 per cent of young people into university - which puts so much unnecessary pressure on the less academically gifted - and concentrate instead on identifying a young person's specific skill, however mundane that skill might be perceived by an increasingly “achieving” society, and seeking to develop it in the most positive way possible. It would also be hugely more useful for the good of humanity if the money being lavished on the “war on terror” was instead directed at community projects aimed at re-connecting alienated young people with the ethos into which they were born.

Britain prides itself in being “inclusive” when in fact it is diabolically exclusive, and Blair's apparently well-intentioned speech yesterday underlined the fact. Our country's misguided philosophy is costing not only lives but also money. If the Government spent its cash in a responsible and moral way, we might have fewer thugs wreaking their damage and more money in the public purse.


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