Brian Paddick writes: What we need to do in the wake of the riots

There are serious social issues that need to be addressed in the wake of the riots. The problem for politicians faced with situations like those we have seen over the past 10 days is the need to be seen to be doing something positive about it. Talk about long-term problems requiring long terms solutions just doesn’t cut it with the voters, even if that is the answer. Yet it is the responsibility of the Mayor to show political leadership, to inform, persuade and facilitate these long terms solutions, even if he has not direct power to do so.

Young people are telling Camila Batmanghelidjh (founder of Kid’s Company) that they’re not being heard, that they cannot see a legitimate route to getting the things they want or need, because the odds are stacked against them.

However there are others who see nothing wrong in hurting other people, destroying property and stealing. They have to learn what it’s like for the victims, which is why restorative justice is so important. Most of our prisons are already overcrowded and the youth justice system is not good enough at ensuring young criminals do not reoffend. About 6,000 under 18s pass through our youth justice system every year – the highest figures per head of population in Europe. We have to provide an alternative to gangs who have become a substitute for family for some. We need to provide real opportunities for young people to succeed through legitimate means rather than crime. When I was a police commander someone who helped those excluded from school told me: “I’m wasting my time if it’s easier for them to earn money from street robbery than it is to earn money from business.”

So what do we do?

  1. We must maintain law and order and convince those who engage in criminal activity that they are going to get caught and that there will be consequences for their actions.
  2. We should promote restorative justice approaches where perpetrators come face-to-face with victims, so they see the consequences for those they harm and help repair the damage.
  3. We need to have a long hard look at why education is not engaging some young people who then choose crime rather than work. We need to help the most disadvantaged to succeed in an education system where the best predictor of success is not natural ability but parental wealth. This disadvantage affects children as young as two – Liberal Democrats have persuaded the government to invest in funding to help the poorest 2 year-olds.
  4. We need to work with communities, religious groups, charities and others who provide help, support, encouragement and mentoring to young people who would otherwise seek out gangs as an alternative to family.
  5. We have to give everyone enough of a stake in society that they want to work within its norms and values e.g. a decent place to live, an opportunity to work and a belief that the police can and will protect them.

I am not suggesting these can be fixed overnight – our society has been gradually becoming more fractured for many years, including the last thirteen years of Labour governments. We can no longer ignore this problem and hope it goes away. We have to engage, encourage and include those disaffected youths into society while ensuring that those who seek to engage in pure criminality are caught and made to face the consequences of their actions.

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  • I agree with everything you’ve said. However, you missed out a key element – the necessary reform of the metropolitan police. We need to ensure that when police officers break the law that they are subject to the same justice as everyone else and we need to ensure that the relationship between the police and the public is not undermined by the Met’s behaviour of spreading disinformation, covering up the evidence and committing perjory in court.

    Sentence for unlawfully killing if you’re a policeman: nothing
    Sentence for committing perjory is you’re a policeman: nothing
    Sentence for leaking untrue information to the press if you’re a policeman: nothing
    Sentence for covering up evidence if you’re a policeman: nothing

    Sentence for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water if you’re not a policeman: 6 months.

    That’s the kind of injustice that led to the French Revolution.

  • Daniel Henry 18th Aug '11 - 2:04pm

    Good article.
    Just the kind of thing we need to be hearing from a london mayor right now. The Tories’ shrill approach is making them look like headless chickens, suddenly abandoning their pro-civil liberties beliefs in order to appease tabloids.

    Both you and Mike have different areas of expertise to offer London. I hope that once this internal competition is over you both work closely together.

  • Yes, good article. The only part I would disagree with is that society is more fractured or somehow worse now than it used to be. Sure, crime is likely to rise now as it usually does in a recession and especially when unemployment rises. But according to the BCS crime is still significantly lower than it was a decade ago. We hear again and again how society is getting worse (a mantra that has been repeated for centuries) but the evidence seems to point to the contrary.

    My second point is a question: you say gangs are an alternative to family. What exactly do you mean by that? Most gang members surely have a family, but to expect a teenager to spend the majority of their time at home or with relatives certainly doesn’t tally with my recollection of growing up. Naturally at that age you want to spend most of your time with your peers. How is a “gang” different to any other circle of friends?

    Obviously most groups of friends don’t plan robberies or deal drugs, but is that necessarily the result of being “in a gang” or is it just the result of having few other employment opportunities so turning to crime as an easier route – possibly for some the only route – to making money? Is a gang just a group of friends whose socioeconomic circumstances incentivise them to turn to crime? Or are you saying there is something different about gang relationships vs other friendships that promotes criminal activity by itself? 

    I can imagine that being involved in criminal activities together would tend to bind them closer than in ordinary friendships, perhaps giving the appearance of family-type relationships and loyalties, but that’s more of an outcome than an initial choice. 

    I can also imagine that group mentality would lead to reinforcement of shared culture and rejection of the law and even of the rest of society, but again that kind of group think isn’t a special property of “gangs”. Get a bunch of liberals together and we’d also be quick to reinforce each others’ worldviews, but no one would label us a “gang”.

    Is a “gang” just a group of friends that engages in criminal activity or are you implying there’s something fundamentally different about a “gang”? 

    The reason I ask is that I don’t see how a war on “gang culture” will help  (or “better parenting” for that matter), because the problem seems to lie firmly in wider society and lack of employment prospects or opportunities to do anything with your life. If those opportunities existed wouldn’t the “gangs” just be groups of similar-aged friends like any others? I’m open to being convinced otherwise especially by someone with real experience such as you have.

  • Daniel Henry 18th Aug '11 - 4:27pm

    Catherine, here’s a humourous article to back up your first paragraph:

    I found it very informative as well as making me lol! 🙂

  • Thanks Daniel, v interesting article – the Times editorial panicing about silent films was my favourite:

    “All who care for the moral well-being and education of the child will set their faces like flint against this new form of excitement”

    LOL 🙂

    I also came across this article about looting during the Blitz.

  • There is an Interesting point on another thread suggesting that the loss of the referendum may have contributed to the riots. I am not sure I would go that far but I think there is a link to Brian’s point 5.

    I suggest we should be pointing out that the current winner-takes-all voting system (both parliamentary and local) does promote tribalism, and a polarised division between perceived ‘haves” (basically Tories) and ‘have nots’ (basically Labour) which threatens the cohesiveness of society. The main thing the two old parties seem to have in common is an interest in maintaining the status quo, so that they can carry on fighting the class war. Hence the no vote in the referendum.

  • Jack Holroyde 19th Aug '11 - 10:02pm

    Catherine, you just summed up so elequently what I have been trying to say since day 2 of the rioting by swearing repeatedly on Twitter. damn, I wish I was better at making points clearly!

  • Brian Paddick 19th Aug '11 - 10:31pm

    Catherine, I am talking about a particular type of gang prevalent in inner city areas of London, particularly on run-down council estets. What I mean is that there are many young people from poor single parent families whose mothers do two or three jobs in order feed their children and the result is there are no adults at home after school. That is why a living wage for London is so important, not just a minimum wage. In other families there is no positive male role model for young men to look up to for other reasons. It is bad parenting or criminality in some cases but in others it is shift work or long shifts that mean no one is home in the evenings and the children have to fend for themselves. In the absence of such support, some young people look to gangs to provide the support and sense of belonging that their families are unable to give them. These gangs are more than just groups of friends. They have a hierarchy, a set of rules and a commitment to look after each other. They tend to be united by adversity – the threat of attack by rival gangs – to the extent that membership is perceived to be a matter of survival. If you are not a member of a gang, you are a potentially a victim of gang violence. In those cases where we cannot support the parent(s), we have to provide an alternative to the gangs that provide the support and sense of belonging these young people desperately need. People don’t tend to join this type of gang as a collective acquisitive criminal venture in the absence of legitimate ways of earning money. They do it to feel safe in areas where gangs are more feared and respected than the police. Rather than attack and dismantle gangs, we need to put them out of business by providing alternatives and provide young people with the social skills and self confidence to resist the allure of these gangs.

  • Daniel Henry 20th Aug '11 - 11:33am

    Brian, I think this is the first time I’ve seen you mention a living wage. An effective living wage policy would be attractive to a LOT of voters. Can you give some more details on your policy to promote a living wage?

  • Too much of the education system is run by middle class arts graduates who have only worked for the state; they have little or no industrial experience . Consequently they have ignored the impact of technology and globalisation. As technology advances it reduces the need for unskilled and semi skilled labour and creates new jobs, often requiring more academic skills. Globalisation increase competition. If one wants a German manufacturing capability one needs a German education system. Someone with a slap dash, near enough is good enough, ill disciplined attitude to work, does not have the temperament to be employed in precision high value manufacturing. Rioters who have poor English and badmanners do not have the skills to work in service
    secto dealing with the public. Most of the rioters doe not have attitude to aquire the skills to enter high skill jobs unless they change their mentality. How many of the rioters would one trust to build an aeroplane, wire a building or work in fine dining?

    To become a craftsman requires the willingness to aquire skills, be patient, accept criticism, be precise and accurate in one’s work. The left have enouraged the attitude that to criticise a pupil is wrong; that all opinions are equal and have equal weight, everything is relative: well that is not the approach that enables an apprentice to learn from a craftsman. Rioters should be offered one years hard manual labour, the type which a 25 yrs old fit labourer would find challenging, undertaking community work. Such suitable work would be clearing ditches, mucking out cow sheds or building dry stone walls. The rioters would also have to undertake literacy and numeracy training; if they passed tests and had an acceptable work record, then they would be offered an apprenticeship.An acceptable work record would include 100% attendance unless in receipt of a sick note from a doctor and have achieved the same productivity of a fit labourer.

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