Labour’s war on working class youth

In August Surrey’s assistant chief constable Mark Rowley put forward proposals as part of an internal debate within the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) which would give police new powers to act as judge and jury on Britain’s streets. This comes at a time when the Labour government is considering further measures to ‘deal with’ working class youth.

In a memo leaked in June Home Secretary John Reid was revealed pushing for ‘community punishments’ to demonstrate ‘penance and contrition’, and calling for prison-like uniform so convicts can be seen to be repaying the community. Reid’s personal secretary told an official that the Home Secretary ‘would like us to think outside the box for targeting young offenders. He is keen on looking at involving the army to provide structure to young people’s lives’.

Earlier in the year Labour Party Chair Hazel Blears called for compulsory state nannies in the homes of ‘nuisance families.’ In the same light Tony Blair has been pushing for measures to beat down working class youths ‘before birth.’ As they fight to maintain the support of the rich, Labour’s war on the poor continues.

A recent study by academics at the University of York showed Britain’s 12 million children and teenagers as the unhappiest and unhealthiest of any wealthy European country and 21st out of 25 EU member states in a league table of child well-being. Leading the study Professor John Bradshaw put this down to the fact that ‘We’ve had two generations of children with very high levels of poverty’. The hardship that exists amongst working class children in Britain is considerable:
• More than 27% of all children in the UK (3.4 million) live in poverty according to the Department for Work and Pensions;
• More than a third go without two or more items that most of the population see as necessities, such as adequate clothing, toys, or three meals a day;
• More than 17% live in households whose adult members are unemployed – the highest level in the EU;
• Poverty is even sharper amongst ethnic minority communities: for example well over half of people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin live in poverty.

Since 1997 under the Blair government police have been given unprecedented powers to criminalise youth and restrict their freedom of movement, association and speech. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), along with the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act, represent some of the most oppressive of Labour’s neighbourhood control measures. On-the-spot fines for petty offences (such as £40 for being drunk and disorderly), ‘naming and shaming’, dispersals, banning orders, evictions and imprisonment are all at the disposal of the police, the foot soldiers of the government’s ‘respect’ programme.

In March, the Home Office announced that 7,356 ASBOs had been given out since 1999 in England and Wales, overwhelmingly to under 18s, including hundreds with ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome or learning difficulties, and mainly in neighbourhoods with high social deprivation.

Over the summer new Parental Compensation Orders were rolled out in ten areas to force parents of under 10s ‘to pay for the damage their children cause’ – in other words, the state creates the crime and the poor bear the brunt of the cost.
Mark Rowley’s proposals include the immediate exclusion of ‘yobs’ from town centres at night, and further restrictions on association to tackle ‘street gangs’, all as part of the Home Office’s drive to ‘rebalance’ the criminal justice system ‘in favour of the victim’. According to Rowley, it is ‘time to debate whether constables should be given substantial additional, discretionary, summary powers to meet these challenges... Such powers would effectively bring existing criminal justice system powers to the street. We could move from the police referring and the courts sentencing to the police solving and the courts providing scrutiny.’ In other words, building a police state, for the purpose of maintaining the ‘balance’ in favour of the privileged classes.

Bob Quick, Surrey’s chief constable, also on ACPO’s Workforce Modernisation Committee, defended his colleague’s proposals. Apparently there is ‘a professional debate going on within the police’ over how to deal with people who are ‘impervious to the current criminal justice system’. All of this is a precursor to the government’s proposals to dish out ‘summary justice’.

Not content with curbing the liberty of the nation’s deprived youth, Blair and other Labour leaders along with police chiefs have been pushing for ‘pre-birth’ action to criminalise working class children before they are even born. The Prime Minister asserted: ‘I think we need to deal with these particular issues and we actually do intervene and we intervene at a very early stage. If you’ve got someone who is a teenage mum, not married, not in a stable relationship: “Here is the support we are prepared to offer you, but we do need to keep a careful watch on you and how your situation is developing because all the indicators are that your type of situation can lead to problems in the future”.’ He continued: ‘If we are not prepared to predict and intervene far more early, children are going to grow up in families that we know perfectly well are completely dysfunctional’. So on the one hand we have communities of poor families struggling to bring up children under harsh social and economic conditions, and on the other a government and state responsible for their oppression and exploitation, attacking and criminalising them, while claiming to be ‘supportive’.

Blair has given one home truth about Labour’s war on the working class: ‘For us as a party and a government, this is something we are passionate about, that we have developed for a number of years and will continue long after I’ve gone’. Labour will continue their ‘Judge Dredd’ rule whoever is in their leadership. When Blair said, ‘The kids a few years down the line are going to be a menace to society and actually a threat to themselves’, what he really means is that working class ‘kids’ might one day be a threat to the state and the wealth it represents. The government’s attacks won’t stop until we organise our communities against them.
Louis Brehony

FRFI 193 October / November 2006


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