The riots in London this week have highlighted the problems caused by a gangland culture which seems to have become a feature of our major cities in recent years. Those involved were very young, in many cases still of school age. This was not a protest that got out of control or hijacked. The fact that wanton violence and looting spread so quickly and opportunistically to other parts of London proved that there was no single event that prompted these riots, it was simply the case that people with a criminal tendency jumped on a bandwagon.
There are many reasons why this dire gang culture has grown in recent years. It is partly because of the gradual breakdown of the traditional family unit. This means that fewer boys have a positive role model when they are growing up and, in too many cases, they end up seeking their inspiration and sense of belonging from urban gangs. It is partly driven by popular culture and the mainstreaming of a gang culture through things like rap music. Finally, the authority of teachers to maintain discipline in some schools, especially in our inner cities, has been undermined in recent years.
Putting these problems right will take time but it is important that we start now. There are some things we can’t change: popular culture moves in cycles but rap music will eventually lose its street credibility. Of the things we can change, first, we need to rekindle the family unit and, when doing that, we must also recognise the incredible role that millions of men play as step-fathers, supporting children for whom they are not the biological father.
Next, we need to improve discipline in schools and that is why the government is currently introducing new legislation that will tip the balance back in favour of the authority of teachers and strike down some of the obstacles that have prevented them doing basic things like confiscating mobile phones, expelling pupils or using reasonable force to restrain violent children.
Finally, I think we need to introduce a modern day form of national service so that young people from all sorts of different backgrounds come together and achieve something together. Some countries do this better than we do and they recognise that it can break down barriers in society. There are many good organisations already such as sports clubs, youth clubs, dance groups and the cadets movement but we need to make participation in such activity more universal. This summer the government has been piloting the idea of a National Citizens Service which aims to do just that. We will see how it develops but I would personally not rule out making such a scheme compulsory so that the hardest to reach also benefit.
George Eustice can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall, TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.