Magazine article Public Finance

Wanted: Respect for the Facts

Magazine article Public Finance

Wanted: Respect for the Facts

Article excerpt

I have the dubious honour of being the first journalist to be told of the current 'respect' initiative. Travelling with the prime minister during the closing stages of the last election, I asked him what had struck him most after three weeks touring the length and breadth of Britain.

He paused for a while, then said: There's a real sense out there that, whether it's in relation to discipline in schools or Friday and Saturday night hooliganism outside pubs, people have a real desire for a society of respect and rules but without prejudice.' He promised, that once re-elected, the 'respect' agenda would take top priority.

This has always been one of Tony Blair's strengths - tapping into an issue of national concern, which the Left have traditionally been wary of tackling. On this, he is right. From the inner cities to the suburbs, street crime and yobbery are blights on daily life. Our household's tally over the past year is one burglary, two muggings and one street attack, none of them devastating, but each one very unpleasant and unsettling.

Yet compared with many families, we have got off lightly. Had we been living on the sprawling estate of flats nearby, our experiences would have been much worse.

No-one in the real world disputes the problem. So why did I say I'd had the 'dubious' honour of learning about the new 'respect' agenda? Because so many earlier attempts have gone laughably wrong - from the 'marching yobs to cashpoints' headline to the countless failures in community punishment, starting in the Thatcher years and continuing right through to Blair's. The latest notion of simply evicting troublesome families (to where?) seems ill-thought-out.

Cabinet ministers have also quietly questioned the budget for the agenda. Instead of the £90m promised earlier by Blair, the amount that will be spent on new measures is now nearer to £28m.

So, what will we get for the money? There's to be a National Parenting Academy, more control orders, night-time curfews and a few carrots to go with the sticks in the form of better sports and youth services.

None of the ideas is objectionable; in fact most sound very sensible and surveys suggest they are popular. The real issue though, is how they are implemented. There is no point in ministers decreeing new laws if local authorities and police cannot or will not make them work. It's not about Whitehall or national initiatives. It's about the many million nooks and crannies where crimes are committed. If you don't penetrate them, the rest is waffle.

The success rate so far has been partial, to say the least. …

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