Sorry Mr Reid, we’ve every damn right to moan

13 June 2006
The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday

You might expect John Reid to know a lot about the vile culture of violence that has disfigured our country and made it feel less safe than at any time in living memory.

Parts of the Home Secretary’s constituency on the eastern edge of Glasgow are notorious. Gangs of adolescent louts with knives have created no-go areas into which the police hesitate to venture. Saturday nights are orgies of inebriated thuggery in which lives are frequently lost to the ever-present threat of stabbing.

But amid the chaos of his dysfunctional Home Office Dr. Reid appears desperate to ignore the evidence of his own eyes. The idea that he should urge decent Britons to ‘stop moaning’ and ‘take action’ against thugs and reclaim our streets would be risible if it were not so utterly irresponsible. No wonder he performed a humiliating U-turn at the weekend.

In a country in which teachers are suspended for breaking up fights between pupils, and a father who protects his child against a bully is more likely to face prosecution than the assailant, the notion that we can all become have-a-go heroes is madness. As one recent national survey revealed, 60% of us are too scared of the consequences to dare to intervene when we witness an assault. No wonder.
Poor Thomas Grant, the St Andrew’s University student who heroically stepped into an argument on a train to defend a woman passenger last month, paid with his life.

Endemic violence

Thirty years ago most Britons could expect to live their lives without ever experiencing the shocking brutality of street violence. Now the terror of attack by louts is endemic. While travelling through Britain’s crime-ravaged cities to research my book ‘Yob Nation’, I encountered numerous examples of how the law-abiding majority has been compelled to cower in dread.

In the name of political correctness the state that should protect our safety and guarantee our freedom seems more determined to defend our aggressors.

In London I heard the appalling story of Kevin, a man who spotted a gang of teenage yobs attacking old ladies in the street. Instinctively he did what we all hope we would do and grabbed the 14-year-old ring leader, knocking him over into a puddle. The violence stopped as it so often does when bullies are confronted. But that night Kevin was visited by the police who charged him with attacking a juvenile. His reward for being a good citizen? A criminal record.

When Kevin asked the presiding magistrate what he should do if he encountered another case of aggression against the old and vulnerable the reply was curt. "Next time," he was told, "just cross the street."

That appalling reversal of the parable of the Good Samaritan is repeated throughout the land. Yobs have learned to exploit laws that should protect the innocent to preserve their own freedom and persecute their victims.

John Reid and his friend the Prime Minister should be deeply ashamed. The New Labour Party they both helped to create ended its eighteen years in the political wilderness by convincing voters that it was serious about law and order.

Wrapping itself in what were once Conservative clothes Labour declared that it would get tough on crime. Ever since, successive Home Secretaries have tried to calm public fears with solemn promises of tougher sentencing and crackdowns on anti-social behaviour. But in this the government is sending out unforgivably mixed messages about crime and morality.

For Labour has repeatedly passed legislation that bluntly contradicts its claim to care about ignorant, brutish behaviour. By relaxing licensing laws – despite strenuous warnings from the police and doctors – the Blair government has put rocket boosters under drunken violence and made communities from Lands End to John O’Groats unsafe after dark.

Equal opportunity violence

The violent lager louts we once associated with holiday excesses are now ubiquitous on the streets of any market town in Britain. And many of the participants these days are young women.

In Manchester recently, Superintendent David Baines of the Greater Manchester Police showed me CCTV pictures of a man waiting quietly at a bus stop being kicked, punched and pulverised in a senseless and unprovoked attack. Among his assailants were several grinning girls.

Similar horrors are occurring constantly throughout the UK because New Labour has overseen an unprecedented explosion in alcohol-related violence.

During the 2001 General Election it wooed young voters with disgraceful text messages that said "Don’t give a XXXX for last orders – Vote Labour."

Now, even young men like me are terrified to go out. Streets with which I have been familiar all my life have become places of dread. Obscene abuse happens at any time of day or night. Objects are thrown. I was recently viciously punched in the eye for refusing to hand money to a posse of young lads who confronted me on the top deck of a bus in East London.

The Government’s own authoritative British Crime Survey confirms that 20% of the British population lives with the constant undertow of fear that they will be robbed, stabbed or punched while going about their everyday business. We are scared, but when John Reid suggests that we should stop complaining and confront the yobs ourselves we are entitled to be angry as well.

Insulting hectoring by the Home Secretary in a government that has lost control of the streets will not give us the courage to fight back. Everything I have seen in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester and other communities across the British Isles has convinced me that glib words and cheap political stunts are no protection against Britain’s plague of casual, mindless violence.

In the 1950s and 1960s British children learned a single code of behaviour that was broadly accepted by everyone. Even miscreants knew the difference between right and wrong. Adults had the confidence to intervene when adolescents misbehaved and knew that they would be supported by the police and courts. Today simply remonstrating with other people’s children can earn a sanctimonious lecture or an appearance in court.

To reverse Britain’s ugly tide of delinquency, we must strengthen the powers of teachers. Children must be taught to respect themselves and others. Our antiquated court system must be modernised to ensure rapid and transparent justice.

Perhaps then, with the full authority of the state committed to defend us, we might find the courage to intervene as our consciences tell us we should.

But until that support is guaranteed John Reid just sounds like another yob, ranting incoherently at his blameless victims.

Francis Gilbert is the author of Yob Nation. He works as a teacher in a comprehensive school.

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