Sunday, 27 July 2008

Cameron Loses a Bicycle, but Wins an Election  


It is a little worrying that our next Prime Minister doesn't have enough sense to lock his bicycle properly. I mean, how can he possibly have thought it would be safe to fasten it to a bollard? Apart from itself being rather antisocial (one presumes that the bollard in question serves an actual purpose other than the one Cameron failed to find for it) it is worrying that he would choose an object to lock his bike to, that was entirely useless for this purpose.

Let's take a look at the image of a bollard shall we:

Anyone spot the problem? Yes, a bollard is short and does not have a top or a curve to it, thus making it easy to just pick up a 'locked' bicycle and carry it away. This is what has happened to the seemingly inept Mr Cameron. Surely, surely we can come up with better candidates for PM than Mr Cameron?

Not when the alternative is Gordon Brown. One could never imagine Mr Brown being so idiotic as to try to lock his bicycle to a post but, then again, it would be difficult to imagine the Prime Minister ever riding a bicycle to pick up some groceries from the Portobello branch of Tesco. But is that really such a great problem? Do we really need to elect media sensations like Barrack Obama or ersatz men of the people like David Cameron and George W. Bush? The short answer is no we don't need to elect these people but, in Western society we feel the need to elect these people.

There is no doubt that Brown has made a series of blunders himself: the decision to avoid ratifying the Lisbon Treaty at the same time as other leader was, frankly, an embarrassment; the decision to pump so much money into the NHS with few controls over how it was spent is part of a legacy of waste left from his time as Chancellor; the abolition of the 10p tax rate and the weak attempt at appeasing the electorate was the final nail in the coffin of this government. However, Brown as Prime Minister has personally made very few errors. It is true that he lacks style and, to some extent, even substance, but one cannot argue that his is ineffective. Indeed, the weakness attributed to him as a leader is more of a general weakness when it comes to the government as a whole.

This is a dying government. After last week's humiliating record breaking defeat ( in Glasgow, it is not surprising that Labour backbenchers and party activists are demanding Brown's head. However, it does not matter who would come in to replace Brown as he is just a figure of hate around the country - hate that is directed towards the government as a whole.

It is rare that political groups receive much attention on Facebook. Indeed , with the exception of the ubiquitous Barrack Obama , there are few that receive much attention. However, anti-Labour groups such as 'Gordon Brown is a Twat' have become increasingly popular. The fact is that the government has been in power too long and they have got far too used to choosing their policies to appease Middle England. People want a change and the Labour heartlands (such as Glasgow East) no longer see the party as representing themselves. The government are earnestly defending policies which appeal to Middle England such as identity cards and longer detention, but they have already lost the support of this part of the electorate who, with the economy being a little shaky, have run back to the Conservatives in their droves.

It is irrelevant whether Cameron is as inept a leader as he is at the rather simple task of locking a bicycle. The fact is that Gordon Brown and his Labour government cannot win the next election. Even if the Tories were to put forward a proud toff in bloodied hunting apparel, they would still win the next election; even if they put forward Iain Duncan Smith the 'quiet man 'would manage to mumble his way into office.

It is shame that we have to choose between these two leader and these two parties, and it suggests a lot about the state of our own democracy that we spend so much time thinking about the American political system. If only we could choose between Obama and McCain - we'd even be able to unite Europe in the common desire to see Barrack smile that smile and make us feel hope in the face of despair.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Crime & Punishment  


In Dostoeveky's famous novel the main protagonist, Raskalnikov, desperate from poverty and degradation, murders his hateful landlady. The rest of the novel is an exploration of guilt and the sorrow that an intelligent man feels as he comes to terms with his crime. The street kids who are filling our newspapers and 24 hour news channels - seemingly filling the general populace with fear - are not Raskalnikovs. It is true that the majority of them grow up in poor areas. However, it is not the extent of their poverty that leads them to their crimes (their situation is incomparably better than that of Raskalnikov), but rather the fact that they are the product of parents and grandparents who grew up in similar situations. Raskalnikov was an individual and as such was capable of feeling an individual's shame and regret. The gangs of feral teenagers, brought up by parents who either cannot provide the level of education that their children require or, possibly more likely, do not see the merits of an education, do not feel shame or regret for their actions because those same actions are what gives them an identity and a feeling of belonging and success. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, in arguing that teenage knife attackers should be forced to see the results of their actions and to be confronted by the families of their victims ttp:// is trying clearly trying so very, very hard to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, she has completely misunderstood the problem. Equally, David Cameron, by arguing for the usual Tory solution of longer prison sentences has not even bothered to come up with something new. Punishment by the state has no meaning for gang members because the state otherwise makes little or no impact on their lives. The only 'state' for these kids is that they belong to a gang and it is only other gang members or other gangs who can punish them.

So what is the solution? In short there can be no quick solution. This problem has been developing over a period of generations and the only way in which to alter the situation in any meaningful way is to spend generations trying to change the entire culture of our inner cities. One of the biggest drawbacks (and paradoxically one of its biggest advantages) of a democracy is that the public look for instant solutions for long-standing problems.
Boris Johnson, as a Conservative Mayor of London and Jacqui Smith have said that they will be working together in order to improve conditions in London's inner cities. This is definitely a start, but all the parties need to get together to ensure that long term policies are implemented to ensure that inner city children throughout the UK are given the sort of education that will enable them to escape the cycle of ignorance and hatred that leads them to gangs. Equally, the gang culture that is so centred around misogyny, hatred and violence needs to be countered so that children have a real option to violence. Finally, the parents of these children need to be educated and to be helped to handle their children effectively. The media often point to rap stars and label them as bad role models. It is no doubt that the rap culture and many of the lyrics are a part of the gang culture in the United States and now in the UK.

However poor rap stars can be as role models, though, it is the parents that are crucial to a child's upbringing.
A child gains most of its characteristics by the age of 7 years - long before they have any real interest in rap music. In the case of
Damilola Taylor, all 11 of the suspects had no father figure at home ( and the high rate of fatherless children in our inner cities cannot be ignored. However, too many argue that the main problem with single parent households is that the father is not around to provide discipline. This is not the main problem and, even if these children had their fathers around, it is possible that they would not be better people. These fathers are often very poor role models and it is not just a need for father figures, but for men that these boys can respect and emulate. At the moment these boys with knives seek to emulate rap stars and gang members because there is nothing else. The only way to do this is for the fathers of the next generation to be good role models for their children. Unfortunately these fathers are those who are carrying the knives right now.

Ultimately society needs to change so that both inner city children and their parents have more to look forward to, with new horizons to aim for. This would need to include an improvement in education, ensuring that the parents encourage their children to better themselves and building a system of youth centres and clubs at schools to give the children the chances to make something of their lives.

Raskalnikov felt a release from the torment of his own guilt when he was finally punished for his crime. At the moment are best hope is that those wielding knives will eventually feel the same way without the need for shock tactics or the threat of long prison sentences.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Joey Barton  


Joey Barton has been sentenced for a second time for assault (this time for beating up his ex-colleague and team mate, Ousmane Dabo). Despite the fact that this is Barton's second GBH offence he has been spared a prison sentence and has instead been given a suspended sentence. The Newcastle midfielder has managed to show all the facets of the criminal justice system: the good face (he was imprisoned for 6 months for a brutal assault outside a McDonald's restaurant in Liverpool in December, 2007) and the bad face (that he managed to avoid a longer spell in prison despite his previous track record of criminal behaviour). There is no doubt the common man could expect to see a similar sentence handed down for the McDonald's attack; but it is extremely unlikely that anyone but a multimillionaire footballer could avoid a longer sentence when he is convicted of a second offence. Below is a list of offences before the two he has been sentenced for: Feb 2004: Sent off against Spurs Apr 2004: Storms out of ground after being left out for Southampton game Jul 2004: Kevin Keegan accuses him of starting brawl in friendly at Doncaster Dec 2004: Puts lit cigar in Jamie Tandy's eye May 2005: Breaks leg of pedestrian while driving Jul 2005: Involved in alleged fight in Thai hotel bar (taken from the BBC website) Barton also manages to demonstrate that, for all his money and for all the efforts by various coaches to believe that he has reformed (Keegan; Pearce et al) he is a thug. He is poorly educated and sees power and success through brawn and violence. By attacking people he manages to exert his authority over them and, at the same time making himself feel stronger. He is a (moderately) talented footballer but, like so many other British footballers he comes from a poor family in a dilapidated part of a city (Liverpool in his case). He is the perfect example of how money and 'bling' cannot help to change someone who grew up in the streets; he is the perfect example of a poor role model for those who are growing up in the streets. However, we need to look at Barton and others who have fallen foul of their upbringing despite their obvious advantages (Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, Pete Docherty for obvious examples) and think about how society is failing the poor and that education is the solution, rather than just throwing money at the problem. Education would lower gang violence; education would lower common assault and anti-social behaviour and education would lower domestic assault rates. We should throw as much money as possible at this and do it now, before we have a generation of thugs and those too afraid too disinterested to want to learn.