A week after the turmoil in London and other UK cities, attention is turning away from the immediate issues of dealing with criminal behaviour towards the action needed to address the wider causes. Importantly, understanding those causes does not excuse the violence; but it is an important first step to preventing a future repetition.
As ever, some will reach for a quick fix - advice from a USA 'super cop' on zero tolerance of gangs; blocking of BBM; re-introduction of compulsory national service; penalising welfare recipients. As political leaders we need to resist soundbite politics and the temptation to go for what is easy, instead of looking for what works. But in addition, we should not reach for answers until we understand the problem - and in my view, we are nowhere near yet to a proper understanding of the problem.
The starting point for me is that there is not a single 'problem'. From what I have witnessed of and been told about the behaviour on our streets, it is possible to see the impact of at least 4 different factors:
- Lack of jobs, security and hope
- Disaffected youngsters with nothing to do
- Opportunistic criminality by all age groups, so-called 'shopping with violence'
The action needed immediately is to progress the method by which we gather information and deliver a joined-up action plan across all these areas. Whilst police investigations progress into the criminal activity involved and the IPCC continues its work in reviewing the circumstances of the death of Mark Duggan, we will also need to gather information from the wider communities affected by these issues. Ed Milliband's call for a Royal Commission is exactly what we need.
I have heard the cry that people no longer recognise their own city. Perhaps this is now the moment to recognise an uncomfortable truth. These issues have always been present but they have not surfaced in such obvious ways, and not all at the same time. In effect, we have been living in parallel societies, with little contact between them. The costs of dealing with these issues will be high; but the costs of continuing to deny them will be significantly greater, with the loss of more innocent lives and continued major civil unrest on our streets.
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